Computer Laboratory

Course pages 2015–16

ECAD and Architecture Practical Classes

Virtual machine setup

To undertake the class you can either use the Managed Cluster Service machines in the Intel Lab at the Computer Laboratory, or a virtual machine on your own laptop. If you have a suitable laptop we recommend using it as you will likely find it quicker and you will be able to work away from the lab. You will still need to attend lab sessions for ticking and for demonstrator help: do not assume you can complete the tick work entirely on your own. If you bring a laptop, do not forget your charger: the labs involve some heavyweight computation and can rapidly flatten your battery.

If you are intending to use the MCS, skip down to the MCS and VM tool configuration section.

A suitable laptop is one of approximately the following spec:

  • Intel Core i5 or i7 (i3 possible but slow, AMD untested)
  • Virtualization support (VT-x or AMD-V) present and enabled in BIOS
  • 4GB RAM (8GB or more strongly recommended)
  • 24GB of free storage. It is possible to use USB storage but some USB sticks are very slow (the SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 is one of the better ones we tested). If you are using USB, format to exFAT (Windows or Mac), ext3/ext4 (Linux), HFS+ (Mac), NTFS (Windows) - other combinations are likely to have poor performance.
  • 8GB of temporary storage (USB stick is fine, formatted something other than FAT32 which has a 4GB file size limit)
  • A 64-bit host OS supported by VirtualBox (Windows, OS X and Linux should be fine)

If you have a suitable laptop, download a virtual machine image to your temporary storage (requires Raven). Download the virtual machine before you arrive in the lab - the VM is 8GB and it will be very slow if everyone downloads it over wifi in the lab. The login information for the VM is : login:ecad, password:ecad.

Install VirtualBox

First download VirtualBox and also download the `VirtualBox Oracle VM VirtualBox Extension Pack' for the same version (this is necessary for USB 2 support). If you are using a Linux distro with a package manager, instead install the VirtualBox package supplied by your distro and find the matching extension pack from the VirtualBox site (looking at the older builds downloads if need be).

Install VirtualBox on your machine. To install the Extension Pack, go to File->Preferences, click on the Extensions button, then click on the 'folder with triangle'. Navigate to the Extensions Pack file you downloaded (.vbox-extpack) and select it. Then follow the prompts to install the pack.

Importing the VM

To import the VM into VirtualBox, go to File->Import Appliance and select the .ova VM image you saved on temporary storage. This will configure VirtualBox with the settings for the VM and associate it with the disc image.

You should now have an 'ECAD Labs' entry in the main VirtualBox window that you can now press the Start button to boot.

If you have more than 4GB RAM, before booting we recommend going into the Settings panel for the VM and increasing System->Base Memory to 6GB (on an 8GB laptop) or more if you have more than 8GB RAM. This will reduce your FPGA synthesis time. If you have only 4GB of RAM, don't open too many other programs while the VM is running otherwise your system will become slow and memory constrained.

Guest additions

You will probably want to install VirtualBox's Guest Additions, which enable features such as resize of the VM's display, shared clipboard, shared folders, and so on. To do this, boot your VM to the desktop. Then on the menu of the VM window go to Devices->Insert Guest Additions CD Image. This should insert a virtual CD into the VM system that will automatically install the additions and their kernel module (when prompted the password is 'ecad'). Reboot the VM afterwards for them to take effect. You can then enable Devices->Shared clipboard->Bidirectional.

USB setup

Linux laptops

If you have a Linux laptop, to give VirtualBox access to your USB ports you will need to run the following outside of the VM:

sudo adduser $USER vboxusers

then reboot your laptop.

Windows laptops

On Windows, before starting the VM click on the 'ECAD-Labs' entry in the list of VMs and click on 'Settings'. Go to 'USB' and choose USB 1.1. OK the settings.

Now, find your VirtualBox install in Windows Explorer (probably C:\Program Files\Oracle\VirtualBox). Go to the drivers\USB\filter subdirectory. Right-click on VBoxUSBMon.inf (of type 'Setup Information') and select Install. Allow Windows to install it. Repeat the same for drivers\USB\device\VBoxUSB.inf.

You should now be able to boot the VM with USB support.


If you have problems with your VM installation, bring your laptop to the first session on 9th/13th October.

VT-x error

Either you have not enabled VT-x, Intel Virtualisation Technology or similar) in your BIOS/UEFI settings, or Hyper-V (Microsoft's own hypervisor) is enabled. See this guide for details how to disable Hyper-V and enable VT-X.

MCS and VM tool configuration

On both the MCS and in the VM the ECAD tools you will need to setup paths and environment variables each time you open a new terminal. We've provided a script to make life easier; enter the following in a graphical terminal window:

source $CLTEACH/swm11/setup.bash

You will now be able to use tools like "vsim" (simulator) and "quartus" (FPGA synthesis tool) from the command line. Check these each start a GUI to verify your setup is successful.

Installing the Altera tools yourself

As an unsupported alternative, you could try downloading the Altera Web edition tools yourself and installing on your own Linux box. See Altera's web edition download page. The remote download is around 5.5GB and you will have to manually check that you have the right libraries (particularly 32-bit libraries) and USB configuration. Choice of distribution is also important: Altera test on RedHat Enterprise, but we usually have reasonable luck with a Ubuntu long term support distribution. Our own installation notes are on a wiki. Having said all of that, we recommend you use the virtual machine that we've setup and tested, and is available for local download.