Note: The Basys FPGA board is a discontinued product.


Digilent's Basys circuit board is an integrated circuit development platform based on a Xilinx Spartan 3E field programmable gate array (FPGA). The Basys board provides a low-cost, introductory development platform for engineers to try new designs or learn about FPGAs and modern CAD tools. Basys features include:

  • 100,000 gate Xilinx Spartan 3E FPGA
  • High speed USB2 port for JTAG programming and user-data transfers
  • XCF02S Xilinx Platform Flash ROM to store FPGA configurations
  • Large collection of I/O devices including eight LEDs, four-digit seven-segment display, four pushbuttons, and eight slide switches
  • PS/2 and VGA ports
  • User-selectable oscillator (25/50/100MHz), plus a socket for a second oscillator
  • Four 6-pin header ports for user I/O and peripheral module connection
  • ESD and short-circuit protection on all I/O signals.

Functional Description

The Basys board provides an inexpensive, robust, and easy-to-use platform that anyone can use to gain experience with FPGA devices and modern design methods. It is centered on the Spartan 3E FPGA, and it contains all needed support circuits to get designs up and running quickly. The large collection of on-board I/O devices allow many designs to be completed without the need for any other components, making the Basys an ideal introductory platform for experimenting with new designs or learning about FPGAs and CAD tools. The four standard 6-pin expansion connectors allow designs to grow beyond the Basys board, either with user-designed boards or breadboards and/or peripheral module (Pmod) boards offered by Digilent. (Pmods are inexpensive analog and digital I/O modules that offer A/D conversion, D/A conversion, motor drive, sensor input, and a host of other features). Signals on each 6-pin expansion connector are protected against damage from ESD and short-circuit connections, ensuring a long operating life in any environment. The Basys board works seamlessly with all versions of the Xilinx ISE tools, including the free WebPack tools. It ships with a power supply and programming cable, so designs can be implemented immediately without the need for any additional hardware.

Board Power

The Basys board can be powered from a USB cable or any external DC supply that produces a voltage in the 5VDC-12VDC range. A power jack and battery connector are provided for use with an external power supply. The jack uses a 2.1mm center-positive connector (common on wall-plug power supplies), and the battery connector uses a 2-pin 100-mil connector. Voltages higher than 12V on either of these connectors may cause permanent damage. A power switch determines which connection provides board power.

Input power is routed through the power switch to the four 6-pin expansion connectors and to a National Semiconductor LP8345 voltage regulator. The LP8345 produces the main 3.3V supply for the board, and it also drives another LP8345 regulator (2.5V) and a Fairchild FAN1112 regulator (1.2V). These secondary regulators produce the additional supply voltages required by the FPGA. Total board current is dependent on FPGA configuration, clock frequency, and external connections. In test circuits with roughly 20K gates routed, a 50MHz clock source, and all LEDs illuminated, about 100mA of current is drawn from the 1.2V supply, 50mA from the 2.5V supply, and 50mA from the 3.3V supply. Required current will increase if larger circuits are configured in the FPGA, or if peripheral boards are attached.

The Basys board uses a four layer PCB, with the inner layers dedicated to VCC and GND planes. The FPGA and the other ICs on the board have large complements of ceramic bypass capacitors placed as close as possible to each VCC pin, resulting in a very clean, low-noise power supply.


After power-on, the FPGA on the Basys board must be configured before it can perform any useful functions. The FPGA can be configured from a PC using the USB port, or from an on-board Platform Flash™ non-volatile ROM (jumper JP3 on the Basys board selects the configuration source). The free ISE/WebPack CAD software from Xilinx can be used to create configuration files from VHDL, Verilog, or schematic-based source files, and the free Adept software from Digilent can be used to transfer the configuration file to the FPGA or to the Platform Flash ROM. The FPGA will retain a configuration as long as power is applied, and the ROM will retain configuration data indefinitely. If the configuration jumper is set to ROM, the FPGA will automatically load the configuration stored in the ROM at power-on.

To program the Basys board from the USB port, connect the USB cable to the board (if USB power will not be used, attach a suitable power supply to the power jack or battery connector on the board, and set the power switch to VEXT). Start the Adept software, and wait for the FPGA and the Platform Flash ROM to be automatically identified.

Associate the desired .bit file with the FPGA, and the desired .mcs file with the Platform Flash ROM (please see ISE/WebPack documentation to learn how to create these files). Right-click on the device to be programmed, and select the “program” function. The configuration file will be sent to the FPGA or Platform Flash, and the software will indicate whether programming was successful.

Both the FPGA and Platform Flash ROM will always appear in the scan chain. After the Platform Flash ROM has been loaded with a configuration file, the FPGA can automatically load that file at power-on if programming mode control jumper is loaded in the ROM position.

The FPGA and the Platform Flash ROM can be programmed from a PC using Digilent's Adept software or Xilinx's iMPACT software (both are available for free download). Digilent's JTAG3 cable can be used to connect the board to a PC for programming with either software package.

Note that a demonstration configuration is loaded into the Basys board during manufacturing. If that configuration has not been overwritten, it can be automatically loaded into the FPGA by setting the Mode Select Jumper to “ROM”, and cycling power or pressing the reset button (labeled “BTN_R”).


The Basys board includes a primary, user-settable silicon oscillator that produces 25MHz, 50MHz, or 100MHz based on the position of the clock select jumper at JP3. A socket for a second oscillator is also provided at IC7 (the IC7 socket can accommodate any 3.3V CMOS oscillator in a half-size DIP package). The primary and secondary oscillators are connected to global clock input pins at pin 36 and pin 84 respectively. Both clock inputs can drive the clock synthesizer DLL on the Spartan 3E, allowing for a wide range of internal frequencies, from 4 times the input frequency to any integer divisor of the input frequency.

User I/O

The Basys board includes several input and output devices, and several data ports so that many designs can be implemented without the need for any other components.

Inputs: Slide Switched and Pushbuttons

Four pushbuttons and eight slide switches are provided for circuit inputs. Pushbutton inputs are normally low, and they are driven high only when the pushbutton is pressed. Slide switches generate constant high or low inputs depending on their position. Pushbutton and slide switch inputs use a series resistor for protection against short circuits (a short circuit would occur if an FPGA pin assigned to a pushbutton or slide switch was inadvertently defined as an output).

Outputs: LEDs

Eight LEDs are provided for circuit outputs. LED anodes are driven from the FPGA via 390-ohm resistors, so a logic '1' output will illuminate them with 3-4ma of drive current. A ninth LED is provided as a power-on LED, and a tenth LED indicates FPGA programming status.

Outputs: Seven-segment display

The Basys board contains a four-digit common anode seven-segment LED display. Each of the four digits is composed of seven segments arranged in a “figure 8” pattern, with an LED embedded in each segment. Segment LEDs can be individually illuminated, so any one of 128 patterns can be displayed on a digit by illuminating certain LED segments and leaving the others dark. Of these 128 possible patterns, the ten corresponding to the decimal digits are the most useful.

The anodes of the seven LEDs forming each digit are tied together into one “common anode” circuit node, but the LED cathodes remain separate. The common anode signals are available as four “digit enable” input signals to the 4-digit display. The cathodes of similar segments on all four displays are connected into seven circuit nodes labeled CA through CG (so, for example, the four “D” cathodes from the four digits are grouped together into a single circuit node called “CD”). These seven cathode signals are available as inputs to the 4-digit display. This signal connection scheme creates a multiplexed display, where the cathode signals are common to all digits but they can only illuminate the segments of the digit whose corresponding anode signal is asserted.

A scanning display controller circuit can be used to show a four-digit number on this display. This circuit drives the anode signals and corresponding cathode patterns of each digit in a repeating, continuous succession, at an update rate that is faster than the human eye can respond. Each digit is illuminated just one-quarter of the time, but because the eye cannot perceive the darkening of a digit before it is illuminated again, the digit appears continuously illuminated. If the update or “refresh” rate is slowed to a given point (around 45 hertz), then most people will begin to see the display flicker.

In order for each of the four digits to appear bright and continuously illuminated, all four digits should be driven once every 1 to 16ms (for a refresh frequency of 1KHz to 60Hz). For example, in a 60Hz refresh scheme, the entire display would be refreshed once every 16ms, and each digit would be illuminated for ¼ of the refresh cycle, or 4ms. The controller must assure that the correct cathode pattern is present when the corresponding anode signal is driven. To illustrate the process, if AN1 is asserted while CB and CC are asserted, then a “1” will be displayed in digit position 1. Then, if AN2 is asserted while CA, CB and CC are asserted, then a “7” will be displayed in digit position 2. If A1 and CB, CC are driven for 4ms, and then A2 and CA, CB, CC are driven for 4ms in an endless succession, the display will show “17” in the first two digits. An example timing diagram for a four-digit controller is provided.

Ports and External Connectors

PS/2 Port

The Basys board includes a 6-pin mini-DIN connector that can accommodate a PS/2 mouse or keyboard connection. Most PS/2 devices can operate from a 3.3V supply, but some devices, like older keyboards, require a 5VDC supply. A jumper on the Basys board (JP1) can be used to select whether 3.3V or VU is supplied to the PS/2 Vdd pin. If 5V is required, set JP1 to VU and ensure that Basys is powered with a 5VDC wall-plug supply (note that Basys ships with a 5VDC wall-plug supply).

 PS/2 connector pin locations, pin assignments, and jumper settings.

Both the mouse and keyboard use a two-wire serial bus (clock and data) to communicate with a host device. Both use 11-bit words that include a start, stop and odd parity bit, but the data packets are organized differently, and the keyboard interface allows bi-directional data transfers (so the host device can illuminate state LEDs on the keyboard). Bus timings are shown in the figure. The clock and data signals are only driven when data transfers occur, and otherwise they are held in the “idle” state at logic '1'. The timings define signal requirements for mouse-to-host communications and bi-directional keyboard communications.


The keyboard uses open-collector drivers so that either the keyboard or an attached host device can drive the two-wire bus (if the host device will not send data to the keyboard, then the host can use input-only ports).

PS2-style keyboards use scan codes to communicate key press data (nearly all keyboards in use today are PS2 style). Each key has a single, unique scan code that is sent whenever the corresponding key is pressed. If the key is pressed and held, the scan code will be sent repeatedly about once every 100ms. When a key is released, a “F0” key-up code is sent, followed by the scan code of the released key. If a key can be “shifted” to produce a new character (like a capital letter), then a shift character is sent in addition to the original scan code, and the host device must determine which character to use. Some keys, called extended keys, send an “E0” ahead of the scan code (and they may send more than one scan code). When an extended key is released, an “E0 F0” key-up code is sent, followed by the scan code. Scan codes for most keys are shown in the figure below. A host device can also send data to the keyboard. Below is a short list of some often-used commands.

ED Set Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Scroll Lock LEDs. After receiving an “ED”, the keyboard returns an “FA”; then the host sends a byte to set LED status: Bit 0 sets Scroll Lock; bit 1 sets Num Lock; and Bit 2 sets Caps lock. Bits 3 to 7 are ignored.
EE Echo. Upon receiving an echo command, the keyboard replies with “EE”.
F3 Set scan code repeat rate. The keyboard acknowledges receipt of an “F3” by returning an “FA”, after which the host sends a second byte to set the repeat rate.
FE Resend. Upon receiving FE, the keyboard re-sends the last scan code sent.
FF Reset. Resets the keyboard.

The keyboard should send data to the host only when both the data and clock lines are high (or idle). Since the host is the “bus master”, the keyboard should check to see whether the host is sending data before driving the bus. To facilitate this, the clock line can be used as a “clear to send” signal. If the host pulls the clock line low, the keyboard must not send any data until the clock is released (host-to-keyboard data transmission will not be dealt with further here).

The keyboard sends data to the host in 11-bit words that contain a ‘0’ start bit, followed by 8-bits of scan code (LSB first), followed by an odd parity bit and terminated with a ‘1’ stop bit. The keyboard generates 11 clock transitions (at around 20 - 30KHz) when the data is sent, and data is valid on the falling edge of the clock.


The mouse outputs a clock and data signal when it is moved; otherwise, these signals remain at logic ‘1’. Each time the mouse is moved, three 11-bit words are sent from the mouse to the host device. Each of the 11-bit words contains a ‘0’ start bit, followed by 8 bits of data (LSB first), followed by an odd parity bit, and terminated with a ‘1’ stop bit. Thus, each data transmission contains 33 bits, where bits 0, 11, and 22 are ‘0’ start bits, and bits 11, 21, and 33 are ‘1’ stop bits. The three 8-bit data fields contain movement data as shown below. Data is valid at the falling edge of the clock, and the clock period is 20 to 30KHz.

The mouse assumes a relative coordinate system wherein moving the mouse to the right generates a positive number in the X field, and moving to the left generates a negative number. Likewise, moving the mouse up generates a positive number in the Y field, and moving down represents a negative number (the XS and YS bits in the status byte are the sign bits – a ‘1’ indicates a negative number). The magnitude of the X and Y numbers represent the rate of mouse movement – the larger the number, the faster the mouse is moving (the XV and YV bits in the status byte are movement overflow indicators – a ‘1’ means overflow has occurred). If the mouse moves continuously, the 33-bit transmissions are repeated every 50ms or so. The L and R fields in the status byte indicate Left and Right button presses (a ‘1’ indicates the button is being pressed).

VGA Port

The five standard VGA signals Red, Green, Blue, Horizontal Sync (HS), and Vertical Sync (VS) are routed directly from the FPGA to the VGA connector, resulting in a simple video system that can produce eight colors. The color signals from the FPGA include 270-ohm series resistors that form a divider with the 75-ohm termination resistance of the VGA display. This simple circuit ensures that the video signals cannot exceed the VGA-specified maximum voltage, and results in color signals that are either fully on (.7V) or fully off (0V).

VGA System Timing

CRT-based VGA displays use amplitude-modulated moving electron beams (or cathode rays) to display information on a phosphor-coated screen. LCD displays use an array of switches that can impose a voltage across a small amount of liquid crystal, thereby changing light permittivity through the crystal on a pixel-by-pixel basis. Although the following description is limited to CRT displays, LCD displays have evolved to use the same signal timings as CRT displays (so the “signals” discussion below pertains to both CRTs and LCDs). Color CRT displays use three electron beams (one for red, one for blue, and one for green) to energize the phosphor that coats the inner side of the display end of a cathode ray tube (see illustration). Electron beams emanate from “electron guns”, which are finely-pointed heated cathodes placed in close proximity to a positively charged annular plate called a “grid”. The electrostatic force imposed by the grid pulls rays of energized electrons from the cathodes, and those rays are fed by the current that flows into the cathodes. These particle rays are initially accelerated towards the grid, but they soon fall under the influence of the much larger electrostatic force that results from the entire phosphor-coated display surface of the CRT being charged to 20kV (or more). The rays are focused to a fine beam as they pass through the center of the grids, and then they accelerate to impact on the phosphor-coated display surface. The phosphor surface glows brightly at the impact point, and it continues to glow for several hundred microseconds after the beam is removed. The larger the current fed into the cathode, the brighter the phosphor will glow.

Between the grid and the display surface, the beam passes through the neck of the CRT where two coils of wire produce orthogonal electromagnetic fields. Because cathode rays are composed of charged particles (electrons), they can be deflected by these magnetic fields. Current waveforms are passed through the coils to produce magnetic fields that interact with the cathode rays and cause them to transverse the display surface in a “raster” pattern, horizontally from left to right and vertically from top to bottom. As the cathode ray moves over the surface of the display, the current sent to the electron guns can be increased or decreased to change the brightness of the display at the cathode ray impact point.

Information is only displayed when the beam is moving in the “forward” direction (left to right and top to bottom), and not during the time the beam is reset back to the left or top edge of the display. Much of the potential display time is therefore lost in “blanking” periods when the beam is reset and stabilized to begin a new horizontal or vertical display pass. The size of the beams, the frequency at which the beam can be traced across the display, and the frequency at which the electron beam can be modulated determine the display resolution. Modern VGA displays can accommodate different resolutions, and a VGA controller circuit dictates the resolution by producing timing signals to control the raster patterns. The controller must produce synchronizing pulses at 3.3V (or 5V) to set the frequency at which current flows through the deflection coils, and it must ensure that video data is applied to the electron guns at the correct time. Raster video displays define a number of “rows” that corresponds to the number of horizontal passes the cathode makes over the display area, and a number of “columns” that corresponds to an area on each row that is assigned to one “picture element” or pixel. Typical displays use from 240 to 1200 rows and from 320 to 1600 columns. The overall size of a display and the number of rows and columns determines the size of each pixel.

Video data typically comes from a video refresh memory, with one or more bytes assigned to each pixel location (the Basys uses three bits per pixel). The controller must index into video memory as the beams move across the display, and retrieve and apply video data to the display at precisely the time the electron beam is moving across a given pixel.

A VGA controller circuit must generate the HS and VS timings signals and coordinate the delivery of video data based on the pixel clock. The pixel clock defines the time available to display one pixel of information. The VS signal defines the “refresh” frequency of the display, or the frequency at which all information on the display is redrawn. The minimum refresh frequency is a function of the display’s phosphor and electron beam intensity, with practical refresh frequencies falling in the 50Hz to 120Hz range. The number of lines to be displayed at a given refresh frequency defines the horizontal “retrace” frequency. For a 640-pixel by 480-row display using a 25MHz pixel clock and 60 +/-1Hz refresh, the signal timings shown in the table below can be derived. Timings for sync pulse width and front and back porch intervals (porch intervals are the pre- and post-sync pulse times during which information cannot be displayed) are based on observations taken from actual VGA displays.

A VGA controller circuit decodes the output of a horizontal-sync counter driven by the pixel clock to generate HS signal timings. This counter can be used to locate any pixel location on a given row.

Likewise, the output of a vertical-sync counter that increments with each HS pulse can be used to generate VS signal timings, and this counter can be used to locate any given row. These two continually running counters can be used to form an address into video RAM. No time relationship between the onset of the HS pulse and the onset of the VS pulse is specified, so the designer can arrange the counters to easily form video RAM addresses, or to minimize decoding logic for sync pulse generation.

6-pin Header Connectors

The Basys board provides four 6-pin peripheral module connectors. Each connector provides Vdd, GND, and four unique FPGA signals.

Several 6-pin module boards that can attach to this connector are available from Digilent, including speaker boards, H-bridge boards, sensor boards, etc. Please see for more information.

6-pin header connector circuit diagram. ESD diodes and power jumper shown for JA are present for the other connectors but omitted from the drawing.


The pinout for the Spartan 3E-100 FPGA in the VQ100 package is shown in the table below.

Pin Function Pin Function Pin Function Pin Function Pin Function
1 PROG_B 21 VAUX 41 VGA-HS 61 JC-3 81 GND
2 LD7 22 CC 42 MODE1/C 62 JC-2 82 3V3
3 LD6 23 CG 43 MODE0/C 63 JC-1 83 SPI-SS
4 LD5 24 CB 44 D0 64 GND 84 CLK2
5 LD4 25 3V3 45 3V3 65 JB-4 85 PS2C
6 VINT 26 AN4 46 VAUX 66 JB-3 86 PS2D
7 GND 27 AN3 47 VGA-G 67 JB-2 87 GND
8 3V3 28 VINT 48 VGA-B 68 JB-1 88 SW7
9 LD3 29 GND 49 VGA-R 69 BTN0 89 SW6
10 LD2 30 BTN1 50 CCLK 70 JA-4 90 SW5
11 BTN3 31 3V3 51 VAUX 71 JA-3 91 SW4
12 LD1 32 AN2 52 GND 72 GND 92 SW3
13 BTN2 33 AN1 53 JD-4 73 3V3 93 GND
14 GND 34 SPI-MOSI 54 JD-3 74 VAUX 94 SW2
15 LD0 35 SPI-MOSI 55 3V3 75 TMS 95 SW1
16 CE 36 CLK1 56 VINT 76 RD0 96 VAUX
17 CD 37 GND 57 JD-2 77 TCK 97 3V3
18 DP 38 SPI-SCK 58 JD-1 78 JA2 98 SW0
19 GND 39 MODE2 59 GND 79 JA1 99 TMS-EN
20 3V3 40 VGA-VS 60 JC-4 80 VINT 100 TDI