Continued weak support from Opal Kelly

A mentioned earlier, I have a XEM 3001 from Opal Kelly. I bought it for simplicity. Simple it is — supported, however, it is not.

Issues thus far:

  • The FrontPanel software, a utility for doing quick-and-dirty PC interfacing with the device, is only supported on a handful of Fedora releases. No source means no can make run on other platforms. Until this January, they only supported Fedora 5 and 7. Absurd.
  • Support is conducted via their online forum. Cute, except they rarely respond with any real info. A lot of “oh, we’ll do something about that real soon now.” Be prepared to hear back a caustic reply. The customer is always an idiot, after all.
  • The RAM3001 module — an addon for the low end XEM boards to give them some memory — isn’t really supported with the XEM3001. Sure, they say it is. It’s not. They have sample code for interfacing for all other modules. They’re response? Oh, you should be able to figure out what to do based on the source for the hardware you don’t own. So, you know, familiarize yourself with some other hardware you have nothing to do with.

I’m sure that experienced engineers can get around this. Experienced I am not. They market their products to students. Bummer.

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5 Comments

  1. Hello intoverflow–

    I’m sorry you’ve been disappointed with the level of support from Opal Kelly. Hopefully this response will help clarify some things.

    Regarding Linux support: As a practical matter, we can only officially support a subset of the 600+ Linux distributions. We all know that Fedora Core users make up a small subset of Linux users, but Fedora Core is a well-managed distribution that is often on the cutting edge. It is well known among our customers that many other distributions work just fine with our provided API for FC7. In fact, we recently rebuilt for FC10. Updated Linux builds are generally unnecessary unless something dramatic changes in the USB support or compiler arena.

    Our online community forums are a way for customers to connect and share experiences. Although we do monitor the forums and respond occasionally to items within our support scope, the official way to contact support is through our support email ticket system. We encourage forum use first because it allows customers to build a community experience and provides a sort of “FAQ”.

    The RAM3001 is supported for use with the XEM3001 and they are well-known to work together. Many customers have them in existing products. Although it is true that we do not provide our popular RAMTester sample for the XEM3001, the SDRAM controller we include with the XEM3005 and XEM3010 samples works well with the XEM3001.

    Finally, regarding our target market. Our target market is generally experienced engineers looking to integrate our product into their design. Many universities and colleges use our products in their research and classrooms, but the students are guided by experienced educators. We have also helped a number of student groups with our products and have really enjoyed working with them.

    But to your point, we do not provide full-blown FPGA tutorials for beginners. We feel that level of support is better provided by others with different business models. There are a number of books and professional groups that provide training materials and courses.

  2. No one expects you to support 600+ Linux distributions (except for those who would argue that the software should be open source, but that’s neither here nor there). Support for contemporary distributions, however, is a reasonable expectation. Fedora bills itself as a hyper-modern distribution. Their website says that Fedora isn’t right for you unless you are the kind of person who wipes their OS every year or so. Before the most recent update to Front Panel — which was just a few weeks ago — it only supported Fedora 7, which was so intensely outdated that Fedora no longer published patches and updates. On the OK forum, an Ubuntu user who was getting the same error messages I got in Fedora 10 was told he could bribe OK to make a custom build for him “for a nominal fee.” If the fee was nominal, why not elide it all together? But I digress.

    For the record, updated Linux builds are completely necessary when the software won’t run. Yup, the USB interface worked. Nope, Front Panel didn’t. FP is a major feature that distinguishes your product (if you disagree then you have nothing to lose by open sourcing it). Hence, no support is tantamount to major suckage.

    Even if the forums aren’t the “official place” to get OK support, it does not excuse the rude and terse replies I’ve seen from OK on the forum. In fact, this reply is the longest post I’ve ever seen from OK support. And it doesn’t even address my technical complaints!

    Yeah, the RAM3001 works for a lot of users, I’m sure. The RAMTester doesn’t work out of box with the XEM3001. The readme tells users they can modify the source from the other boards to get it to work. The current version of Front Panel has a XEM3001 directory, but the code inside doesn’t build. There’s a thread in the forum about this from August 2007 that says this will be fixed in the next release. Still waiting on that.

    The product site for the XEM3001 says:

    The XEM3001 is also great for students and hobbyists who would like to learn more about FPGAs and investigate their possibilities through the convenience of a PC. Its low cost, small size, and large number of general purpose input/output pins makes it ideal for integration into a broad range of projects.

    It probably does work great for people who are being supervised by university professors. The level of support doesn’t quite rise to the challenge of being good for new hobbyists.

    But then again, this is where we agree: my blog post was about how OK support utterly fails for users of my type, and it turns out (according to your reply) that it’s not really what you’re going for in the first place. So failure in this regard is to be expected.

    Oh, and a quick correction to my original post: Front Panel wasn’t updated for Fedora 10 in January, as I had stated; it was updated in April. This month.

  3. Wow. Opal-Kelly sure sucks! What a lame attempt on their part to put a PR spin on this. I definitely won’t buy any of their stuff. Thanks for getting this out in the open!

  4. altentf

     /  29 July, 2010

    Maybe you should try one of the ZTEX FPGA boards (http://www.ztex.de). I made good experience with their support.

  5. jadwin79

     /  6 October, 2010

    Couldn’t disagree more. Opal Kelly provides awesome products with good support. From my experience on the OK forum there is very wide variety of skills and experience represented, with lots of beginners asking for very basic help that the company can’t possibly provide. If you’re a beginner, expect some bumps along the road no matter who you go with.

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