So, I have an old FPGA board manufactured by everyone's favorite bitcoin hardware pioneer, Butterfly Labs. I have the hardware, a JTAG programmer, the name of the chips (probably) under the hood (Altera Stratix III), and a picture of an unpopulated PCB:


How can I get this board doing something? How can I figure out how to interface with the FTDI USB chip? Or even how to turn one of the LEDs on?

  • Power it up and check if the 'program done' of the FPGA is asserted after some time. If so, the program of the FPGA is in the non-volatile memory and get transfered to the FPGA (volatile). If not you will have some hard times...
    – vermaete
    Jan 18, 2015 at 17:15

1 Answer 1


You can use the bare board to "buzz out" the LEDS - using your favourite multimeter in continuity "beep" mode, stick one end on the LED drive sideand then drag it around the FPGA footprints until it pings at you.

You should be able to turn one of them one with a simple HDL file then, using JTAG to first identify the chips so you can build the right bitstream, and then to load the bitstream. If the FPGAs are configured from JTAG programmable flash chips (Altera EPCs) you should be able to load those too. If they are "standard" SPI flash devices, that'll be a bit more buzzing out to do once you've identified them.

Anything else will require a clock. Find a crystal oscillator on the board and bozz that out to the FPGA pins.

You should then be able to make an LED flash (the "hello world" of FPGA land!).

Buzzing out the Rx and Tx lines from the FTDI chip should then get you a potential terminal. From there it should be dead easy (!)

OK, so without a bare board to help...

There is JTAG software which can scan the chain and tell you which signals are high and low, or drive individual pins high and low. This is commercial: http://www.topjtag.com/probe/ - I'm sure there is some non-commercial open-source somewhere too, but can't find it at the moment.

You should be able to use this to step through all of the FPGA pins and find which one lights up the LEDs.

Putting an LED on the FTDI Rx and Tx pins, you should be able to light them up too, or make them go off if they are floating high.

The same should also work for the crystal I imagine too.

You'll be creating contention on each signal which is actually driven from the non_FPGA end each time you step through, but for short periods (even seconds) that should be fine.

  • 1
    I only have the picture of the board, not an actual unpopulated board.
    – Kontakt
    Jan 20, 2015 at 11:56
  • Ahh. Sorry, I misread that. I take it you can't get one (or schematics, or anything else helpful) - hence your question! Jan 21, 2015 at 11:53
  • Yeah, the company said they would release the details over two years ago. Nothing yet.
    – Kontakt
    Jan 21, 2015 at 14:26

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