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Readme file for Blackboard

Document sections

  • Requirements
  • Download design
  • Install board files
  • Build hardware
  • Load software
  • Test the board
  • Build SD card
  • Using Linux on Blackboard
  • Build new boot files


  • Vivado and XSDK 2017.4 loaded and operational. Newer versions may work, but there may be some porting effort required.
  • Windows or Linux PC. A build of the system has been tested on Linux.
  • An 8 GByte, or larger, microSD FLASH card to boot Linux. It is recommended one use a Class 10 microSD card or better. The system has been tested with a Kingston microSD card, part number SDCIT/8GB. A larger microSD card is recommended to load additional Ubuntu packages.
  • Edimax EW-7811Un Wi-Fi dongle or Apple USB to Ethernet dongle for networking.

Download design

  • Use "git clone" to copy the git repository from github to a local machine.

Install board files

  • The Vivado "board.repoPaths" parameter must be set to the path of the "board_files" directory. You can edit the Vivado_init.tcl startup script and add the line shown below. If the script does not exist, create it in the ~/.Xilinx/Vivado directory.

    set_param board.repoPaths [list "<path to board_files>"]

    Substitute in the real path for <path_to_board_files> above. When you run Vivado, the Vivado_int.tcl script will be executed.

    The location of the Vivado_init.tcl file for Linux and Windows is:

    • Linux: From your home directory, in the ".Xilinx/Vivado" subdirectory
    • Windows: From your home directory, in the "AppData\Xilinx\Vivado" subdirectory. The path to "AppData" is in the environment variable "APPDATA".

Build hardware

  1. Bring up Xilinx Vivado.
  2. Use "Tools->Run Tcl Script..." to run the script "linux-blackboard.tcl" located in the main directory.
  3. Click the "Generate Bitstream" button on the lower-left column. This will kick off the hardware synthesis, implementation, and generation of the bitstream.
  4. After generation of the bitstream, export the design to the "sw" directory by selecting "File->Export->Export Hardware". When the "Export Hardware" dialog comes up, make sure the "Include bitstream" box is checked and then select the "sw" subdirectory for "Export to".
  5. Finally, select "File->Launch SDK" to bring up Xilinx SDK. When the "Launch SDK" dialog comes up, select the "sw" subdirectory for both the "Exported location" and "Workspace".

Load software

  1. After completing the Build hardware steps in the previous section, the Xilinx SDK comes up and will load in the exported files, which takes less than a minute.
  2. Once loaded, select "File->Import..." from the menu to load in the existing software projects.
  3. From the Import dialog, select from the tree the "General->Existing Projects into Workspace" and click "Next".
  4. For the root directory, browse to the "sw" subdirectory.
  5. The Projects that will be imported should already be checked. Then click "Finish" to import the projects. The import and build will take about a minute or so to complete, but will likely result in a few errors.
  6. If errors occur, expand the "bsp" item in the tree and then double-click on "bsp->system.mss" in the Project Explorer tab on the left. The "bsp Board Support Package" window will appear in the middle section. Click on the "Re-generate BSP Sources" button and then click on "Yes" when the confirmation dialog appears. This should fix the errors encountered in step 5.

Test the board

  1. Connect a USB cable from the PC to J10 on the board. You will need this cable connected as a minimum to test the board.
  2. Make sure jumper JP2 is set for "JTAG" and jumper JP3 is set to "EXTP" if using an external USB power supply connected to J13. If only using the USB connection to J10, select "USB" for JP3. Turn on switch SW80. If power is active, LED LD16 will light up in red.
  3. You should now run a terminal emulator, like Teraterm or minicom to connect to the serial port that has been assigned to the board. Once connected, output from the tests will be displayed in the main window of the terminal emulator program. For the port parameters, use 115200 baud, 8 bits, 1 stop bit, no parity, and no flow control.
  4. With the software projects built, the bit file can be downloaded to the FPGA. To do this, select "Xilinx->Program FPGA" from the menu. Then click the "Program" button in the "Program FPGA" dialog. The green LED, LD15, near the 7-segment display should light up when programming completes.
  5. The first test to try after programming the FPGA is the "memtest". Right click on "memtest" from the "Project Explorer" on the left side of the SDK. Then select "Run As->Launch on Hardware (System Debugger)" from the drop-down menu. As an alternative, you can click on "memtest" to select it and then select "Run->Run As->Launch on Hardware (System Debugger)" from the main menu. This will download the memory test application to Blackboard and run it. Press "1" to run a short memory test. You should see all tests pass.
  6. You can also run the "hello" application in a similar manner as described for the memory test program. The hello application runs from DDR3 memory whereas the memory test runs from FPGA SRAM.

Build SD card

  1. Download the software image from:

  2. Decompress the image file. On Linux, you can use:

    • "gunzip blackboard_18Feb2019a.img.gz" You can use WinZip to decompress the file in Windows.
  3. The image needs to be burned onto the SD card. For Linux you can use:

    • "dd if=blackboard_18Feb2019a.img of=/dev/sdX bs=512" where the X in sdX is replaced with the actual disk that represents the SD card. For Windows you can use imageUSB by PassMark Software.
    • Select the drive in "Step 1".
    • Select "Write image to USB drive" in "Step 2".
    • Browse to "blackboard_18Feb2019a.img" in "Step 3".
    • Then click the "Write" button.
  4. Copy the following files from the "bootfiles" subdirectory to the first partition on the SD FLASH card, if needed:

    • BOOT.bin
    • devicetree.dtb
    • system.bit
    • uImage
    • rtlwifi.tar.gz (For USB Wi-Fi)

    These files have been pre-built and tested on a real board. The "BOOT.bin", "uImage", "devicetree.dtb", and "system.bit" files should already be on the first partition after completing step 3 above. These files are for Blackboard Rev. D.

  5. Unmount (Linux) or eject (Windows) the SD card from the PC and then insert it into the "SD MICRO" slot on Blackboard.

  6. To boot Linux, make sure JP2 is set to "SD" and connect an external USB supply to J13. Make sure JP3 is set to "EXTP".

  7. Turn on SW80 to power-up the board. Linux should boot with log messages being displayed on the main window of the terminal emulator. See the Test section above for setting up a terminal emulator.

  8. A USB hub with a keyboard and mouse can be plugged into J8 of the board To start an X windows session, type "startx" on the keyboard plugged into Blackboard. X-Windows should start up in about a minute.

Using Linux on Blackboard

  1. The partition size for the ext4 Linux partition is only about 4 GBytes in size. To fully use the 8 GByte or bigger SD card, utilize the "" script located in the "/root/Scripts" directory. To increase the Linux partition size and create the swap file run the command " -e" using a terminal from the "/root/scripts" directory. The "-e" option tells the script to increase the Linux partition to fill the rest of the available space on the SD card.
  2. To bring up networking, plug in a USB network dongle or Wi-Fi dongle. We have had good success using an Apple USB to Ethernet dongle when using a physical network connection. For Wi-Fi, you will likely need to load some firmware files to the /lib/firmware directory. For Realtek drivers, you already copied the firmware files to the first partition of the SD card in the Build SD card step above. To move them to the /lib/firmware directory, perform the following steps:
    • Mount partion 1 by typing "mount /dev/mmcblk0p1 /boot"
    • Then switch to the /lib/firmware directory by typing "cd /lib/firmware".
    • Now copy in the firmware files by typing "tar xvzf /boot/rtlwifi.tar.gz ."
  3. If using a USB Wi-Fi dongle, use the following steps to configure Linux for your Wi-Fi network:
    • Plug in the Wi-Fi dongle to the powered USB hub.
    • From the X-Windows GUI, click on "Preferences->Network Connections" from the launch menu in the lower-left corner.
    • Select "Add" on the upper-right side of the new dialog. After clicking "Add", wait for the next dialog window to pop up and select "Wi-Fi" for the Connection Type. Then click the "Create..." button.
    • After the next dialog pops up, type in the SSID for your Network Name on the "Wi-Fi" tab.
    • In the "Wi-Fi Security" tab, select your Security type, enter in the password, and then click "Save". If you are unsure of what Security type to select, you should select "WPA & WPA2 Personal" since that is what most routers are configured for.
    • After clicking "Save", a network connection should be established if the Wi-Fi SSID and security have been entered correctly. We have used an Edimax EW-7811Un Wi-Fi dongle successfully using the above steps.
  4. With networking operational, you can update the Ubuntu software. To do the upgrade, use the following steps:
    • Type "apt update" to fetch the latest metadata for Ubuntu.
    • Type "apt upgrade" to perform the actual update to the various packages installed on the system.
  5. If you use the graphics login, note that the default password for the blackboard and root users is "blackboard".

Build new boot files

To build new boot files for the SD card, use the following steps:

  • To create a new BOOT.bin file, make sure steps 1 and 2 of the "Load software" section have been completed. Then click on "fsbl" in the "Project Explorer" on the left hand side. Then select "Xilinx->Create Boot Image" from the main menu. This will display the "Create Boot Image" dialog. Select the "Import from existing BIF file" radio button and then click the "Browse" button to select the "output.bif" file in the "sw/fsbl/bootimage" directory. Then click on the "Create Image" button at the bottom. Once complete, you can copy the "BOOT.bin" file from the "sw/fsbl/bootimage" subdirectory to the first partition of the SD card.

  • The device tree source files are generated when importing in the existing projects into XSDK. The generated source files can be copied to the "/root/Src/dts" directory located on the Linux partition of the SD card. One line needs to be added to the bottom of the "system-top.dts" file and that line should be:

    /include/ "system-user.dtsi"

    Note that the device tree sources files will not change unless the hardware configuration changes.

    To regenerate the "devicetree.dtb" file, run the "" file located in the "root/Scripts" directory. The resulting "devicetree.dtb" file can be copied from "/root/Src/dts" to the "/boot" directory on the SD card. Make sure the "/dev/mmcblk0p1" partition on the SD card is mounted to the "/boot" directory prior to copying the "devicetree.dtb" file.

  • To recompile u-boot on Blackboard that is included in the "BOOT.bin" file, you will need to clone "u-boot-xlnx" from our git repository. Once cloned on your local PC, you can use the following steps to build the u-boot elf file:

    • "apt-get install libfdt-dev" to install libfdt development libraries.
    • "apt-get install libssl-dev" to install libssl development libraries.
    • "make zynq_blackboard_defconfig"
    • "make"

    The "make" step will take a while to complete. Alternatively, you can use the tools provided for XSDK to compile u-boot on Linux, which is much faster than compiling on Blackboard. We use the following "" script to build u-boot on Linux:

    # Script to launch cross compile build for u-boot.
    export ARCH=arm
    export CROSS_COMPILE=arm-linux-gnueabihf-
    export UBOOTVERSION=2017.01-Blackboard
    make zynq_blackboard_defconfig

    Once built, you can copy the "u-boot" elf file in the "u-boot-xlnx" directory to "sw/fsbl/Debug/u-boot.elf" in "linux-blackboard". From there, follow the first step in this section to create a new "BOOT.bin" file.

  • Compiling the Linux kernel is similar to u-boot. You will first need to clone the linux-xlnx repository from RealDigitalOrg on To do this, use the command "git clone". This will create the "linux-xlnx" directory. Enter the "linux-xlnx" directory and execute "git checkout real_digital -b real_digital" to load the files needed for Blackboard. We then use the following script on a Linux system that has the Xilinx XSDK tools loaded:

    # Script to build Linux for ARM
    # make ARCH=arm menuconfig
    # or
    make ARCH=arm blackboard_defconfig
    ARCH=arm make -j 4 UIMAGE_LOADADDR=0x8000 uImage modules 2>&1 | tee build.log
    make modules_install INSTALL_MOD_PATH=`pwd`/rootfs ARCH=arm 2>&1 | tee modules_install.log
    make headers_install INSTALL_HDR_PATH=`pwd`/rootfs/usr/ ARCH=arm 2>&1 | tee headers_install.log
    find rootfs/usr/include -name ".install" -delete
    find rootfs/usr/include -name "..install.cmd" -delete

    Once the build has completed, you can copy the uImage file located in the arch/arm/boot subdirectory to the /boot partition. The loadable modules for the new kernel are located in the rootfs/lib/modules subdirectory and must be placed in the lib/modules subdirectory. The linux headers are in the rootfs/usr/include subdirectory and can be placed in the /usr/include subdirectory.

    It is recommended that the cross-compiler installed with XSDK 2017.4 be used to perform the build of the Linux kernel since it typically takes less than an hour to complete. The kernel can also be built on Blackboard using the above instructions, but it will take about 14 to 16 hours to complete. If you do decide to use Blackboard to compile the kernel, make sure there is at least a 16 GB SD card installed with 4 GBytes of free space.

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