DAC AD5541A Pmod Controller (VHDL)

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DAC AD5541A Pmod Controller (top-level file): pmod_dac_ad5541a.vhd (7.7 KB)
SPI Master (must also be included in project): spi_master.vhd (8.8 KB)


  • VHDL source code of a streamlined interface to Digilent’s Pmod DA3 (Pmod for Analog Devices AD5541A digital-to-analog converter)
  • Accepts data to control the DAC using a simple parallel interface
  • Includes update enable to optionally control timing of DAC output updates
  • Handles all serial communication with the DAC Pmod
  • Configurable system clock rate


This details a VHDL component that handles interfacing to the Digilent’s DAC AD5541A Pmod, shown in Figure 1. Figure 2 illustrates a typical example of this DAC Pmod Controller integrated into a system. As shown, the DAC Pmod Controller connects to the Pmod ports and executes transactions to set the DAC output. Data is latched in on a simple parallel interface which can be connected to user logic or to input ports on the FPGA. An update signal controls when the DAC outputs the data it receives.

Figure 1. Digilent DAC AD5541A Pmod

Figure 2. Example Implementation


The DAC AD55541A Pmod provides a 1-channel, 16-bit digital-to-analog converter. The Pmod also includes a 2.5-V ADR441 voltage reference. The 16-bit data resolution corresponds to approximately 0.038mV per bit.

Theory of Operation

The DAC Pmod Controller uses a simple state machine and the SPI Master component available on eewiki to load data into the AD5541A’s data register. AD5541A’s output is updated from its data register whenever the update_output_n port is ‘0’. Therefore, if the update_output_n port is held at ‘0’, the output updates immediately whenever the data register updates. Alternatively, the update_output_n port can be pulsed low to control the precise timing of the output updates.

State Machine

The design uses the state machine depicted in Figure 3 to implement its operation. Upon start-up the component immediately enters the start state. It remains in this state for 100us to ensure the Pmod has ample time to power-up. It then proceeds to the pause state. Here, it ensures at least 20ns elapse between transactions with DAC (the AD5541A datasheet specifies a minimum of 15ns). It then deasserts the busy signal to indicate that the DAC Pmod Controller is ready for a new transaction with the DAC Pmod and proceeds to the ready state. It waits in the ready state until the dac_tx_ena enable signal is asserted, when it latches in the data for the new transaction and advances to the send_data state. In this state, it executes the transaction with the Pmod and then returns to the pause state. Although not shown, resetting the component at any time returns it to the start state.

Figure 3. State Diagram

SPI Master

During the send_data state, the state machine controls an SPI Master component to communicate with the DAC on the Pmod. Documentation for the SPI Master is available here.

The SPI Master is configured with CPOL = 0 and CPHA = 0, to meet the requirements of the AD5541A converter.

Configuring the Clock

The clocking of this DAC Pmod Controller is configured by assigning values to the GENERIC parameters clk_freq and spi_clk_div, defined in the ENTITY. The clk_freq parameter must be assigned the frequency of the system clock provided on the clk input port in MHz. Equation 1 defines how the spi_clk_div value is calculated.


where fclk is the frequency of the provided system clock in MHz.

For example, the default value specified in the code is spi_clk_div = 1. This is arrived at because the component was developed and tested using a system clock of 50 MHz. 50/100 = 0.5, rounded up is 1. Any clk_freq ≤ 100 MHz results in the default spi_clk_div = 1.

Equation 2 defines the serial clock frequency fsclk that results.


This calculation keeps the serial clock below the DAC’s maximum specified communication frequency of 50 MHz when powered by 3.3V. The fastest communication occurs when the input clock frequency (in MHz) is an integer multiple of 100.


The DAC Pmod Controller indicates its availability on its busy output. When the busy signal is ‘0’, the Controller is ready to accept transactions to send to the DAC Pmod. Asserting the dac_tx_ena input latches in the current value of dac_data. Once latched, the Controller asserts the busy signal to indicate that a transaction is in progress, so it is not currently available. When the transaction is complete, it again deasserts the busy signal to indicate that it’s ready to accept another request.

Example Transaction

Figure 4 illustrates an example transaction. The busy signal is ‘0’. The user logic then asserts the dac_tx_ena signal to send the data presented on the dac_data bus to the DAC. The Controller asserts the busy signal, indicating the request is latched in, at which point the user logic can deassert the dac_tx_ena signal. The Controller sends the serial communication to the DAC Pmod, then deasserts busy when complete.

If the dac_tx_ena signal is not deasserted, a new transaction request is latched in and begins immediately once the Controller is available.

In this example, the user logic sets the update_output_n signal high when it requests to send new data to the DAC. Therefore, the DAC’s output does not update immediately upon receiving the new data. Instead, it updates once the update_output_n signal is deasserted (thereby deasserting the ldac_n signal to the DAC).

Figure 4. Transaction Example

Port Descriptions

Table 1 describes the DAC Pmod Controller’s ports.

Table 1. Port Descriptions


This Pmod has a 6-pin connector, J1. Table 2 provides the pinout for this connector. The DAC Pmod Controller’s ports need to be assigned to the FPGA pins that are routed to this connector as listed.

Table 2. DAC Pmod Pinout and Connections to DAC Pmod Controller


The reset_n input port must have a logic high for the DAC Pmod Controller component to operate. A low logic level on this port asynchronously resets the component. During reset, the component aborts the current transaction with the DAC Pmod and sets the busy output high to indicate it is not available. Once released from reset, the DAC Pmod Controller restarts operation.


This DAC Pmod Controller is a programmable logic component that interfaces to Digilent’s DAC AD5541A Pmod. It simplifies data transactions with the DAC and includes an update output enable.

Related Topics

SPI Master (VHDL)


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