Last week Xilinx released the newest version of their tools, revisioned at 2012.3 (14.3). I thought I would take a few minutes here to discuss a few things about Xilinx's tools, and how they are versioned.
Get to know the players
First let's get some nomenclature down:
ISE has been the primary Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for Xilinx for several years. It is has been the primary launch point for all Real Time Logic (RTL) based projects
The Embedded Design Kit program allows for design, customization, and implementation of embedded processors - both soft (Microblaze) and hard (ARM cores in Zynq).
The Software Development Kit is built on top of Eclipse, a common IDE used to develope applications for a number of languages. The SDK is used to write code for the embedded processor, both MicroBlaze and/or Zynq.
PlanAhead is the next generation IDE that can be used to target both 7-Series devices, as well as previous FPGA families from Xilinx. PlanAhead has all of the functionality of ISE, paired with great new features that strongly couple code development to implementation.
Vivado is the next generation tools by Xilinx that targets only the 7-Series devices. Vivado has a similar look to PlanAhead, however provides a great deal of additional features under the hood that allows for faster, smaller designs.
Vivado HSL is awesome. Plan and simple. Vivado High Level Synthesis (HLS) allows you to write C, C++ code and generate HDL (VHDL or Verilog). This is a very powerful tool that will reduce your Time To Market (TTM) and meet those tough timing closures on Digital Signal Processing (DSP) applications.
DocNav (Document Navigator) is a tool that uses Adobe Air and allows you to quickly search through Xilinx documentation. I highly recommend this tool, as it ensures you are always looking at the latest version of the document, as well as puts everything in a nice simple to use interface.
CoreGen (Standing for Core Generator) is a great tool as well, and I wanted to make sure I touched on it here. Xilinx ships with it's tools a great number of Intellectual Property (IP) blocks. These IP blocks are Xilinx maintained, tested, and revisioned code blocks that are available for your use. The majority of these blocks are free, so dive in and take a look - they will greatly help your design come to fruition faster.
There are a great deal of applications that get shipped with the Xilinx tools, these are just some of the ones you may directly use the most. It's worth the look in your tools install directory to dig up all of the binaries in there - there are a LOT.
Which tool is right for me?
Now that we are familiar with who everyone is, let's take a second to look at where Xilinx is going with their tools, and which ones you should be using.
First, if you are using a 6-Series device or Earlier, and have already started your project in ISE, that is just fine. If it works for you, there is no strong argument to move out of ISE today. However if you have not started your project yet, I would highly recommend starting it in PlanAhead. The environment has the same Xilinx feel, however you can do a lot more with it. If you are moving from ISE, I will admit it takes a bit to get used to it, but you will pick it up - I have confidence in you!
If you are starting a new project and it is a 7-Series device (Artix-7, Kintex-7, Virtex-7, or Zynq-7000), then Vivado is where you want to be. Vivado will take advantage of all of the great new features of the 7-Series devices, and will allow you to get your designs to run faster and be smaller within the FPGA.
Update: Mangibu on the forums pointed out that Vivado does not support Zynq-7000 in 2012.3 (14.3). If you are in a Zynq design and are using 2012.3 (14.3) then you should launch your project using PlanAhead, not Vivado. As soon as Vivado has Zynq support, I will update this.
Xilinx changed their version numbering system with the previous release of their tools. And I really like the method they adopted. Before the tools were a major revision -period- minor revision, where major revisions happened about once a year, and a minor revision happened anywhere from 2 months to 5 months. Sometimes this made it difficult to determine if you were in the latest version of the tools.
With this new visioning system, the version number is the year -period- the minor revision. This allows the designer to know immediately if they are, within a year at least, in the latest tools. The version of the tools that was released last week was 14.3, or in the new versioning system 2012.3 - the third minor revision for 2012.
With each new tool release, Xilinx provides a release notes guide. The release notes are a list of things that they changed/modified/added/removed from the previous version. Here is the link to the 2012.3 change-log:
The release notes can be rather lengthy, but nice to review so you know if it makes sense to upgrade or not. If you aren't going to gain anything from the new tools, then there may not be a reason t upgrade. Also, like in this release, Xilinx may change things so that files no longer are backward compatible. This is important when migrating in the middle of a design cycle.
Well I hope this little overview of the tools was helpful, you can download 2012.3 here: http://www.xilinx.com/support/download/index.htm