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Project Aims To Build a Fully Open SoC and Dev Board 47

Posted by timothy
from the reducing-the-riscs dept.
DeviceGuru (1136715) writes "A non-profit company is developing an open source 64-bit system-on-chip that will enable fully open hardware, 'from the CPU core to the development board.' The 'lowRISC' SoC is the brainchild of a team of hardware and software hackers from the University of Cambridge, with the stated goal of implementing a 'fully open computing eco-system, including the instruction set architecture (ISA), processor silicon, and development boards.' The lowRISC's design is based on a new 64-bit RISC-V ISA, developed at UC Berkeley. The RISC-V core design has now advanced enough for the lowRISC project to begin designing an SoC around it. Prototype silicon of a 'RISC-V Rocket' core itself has already been benchmarked at UC Berkeley, with results results (on GitHub) suggesting that in comparison to a 32-bit ARM Cortex-A5 core, the RISC-V core is faster, smaller, and uses less power. And on top of that it's open source. Oh, and there's a nifty JavaScript-based RISC-V simulator that runs in your browser."
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Project Aims To Build a Fully Open SoC and Dev Board

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  • That's what I was about to ask.
    But then I wondered -- what actually was the motivation for this all out Open Source SoC?
    • by sixoh1 (996418) on Friday August 15, 2014 @08:00PM (#47682357) Homepage

      From the article they are using TSMC [tsmc.com], which is one of the largest silicon foundries (ASIC manufacturing) in the world.

      As for the all out open-source, they also make clear on the project page that hardware patents on the chipset instruction is supposedly strangling innovation for processors. I'm not sure I buy that, ARM, Intel and IBM have moved their architectures along pretty well. Even poor little MIPS has made strides despite losing market share.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Cross-licensing? The strangling is probably that the barrier of entry for any new player is incredibly high, which sucks big time. It's like this in all sufficiently large tech markets it seems. The theory is that the one who makes the product people want wins. In practice, the one who kills the competition (using patents for example) wins.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As the blog in EE Times ("The Case for Free, Open Instruction Sets") argues, an ARM license costs $1M to $10M and takes 6 to 24 months to negotiate and then they take a small royalty per chip.
        http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?doc_id=1323406

        The proprietary instruction sets (ARM, IBM, Intel) have indeed evolved; that is not the problem. The problem is that you're not allowed to share implementations of the proprietary instruction sets with others. Thus, the lowRISC project is using a design from UC Berkeley f

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          As the blog in EE Times ("The Case for Free, Open Instruction Sets") argues, an ARM license costs $1M to $10M and takes 6 to 24 months to negotiate and then they take a small royalty per chip.
          http://www.eetimes.com/author.... [eetimes.com]

          The proprietary instruction sets (ARM, IBM, Intel) have indeed evolved; that is not the problem. The problem is that you're not allowed to share implementations of the proprietary instruction sets with others. Thus, the lowRISC project is using a design from UC Berkeley for free without

      • Just to be clear, lowRISC is a separate project to the RISC-V instruction set architecture, though we are lucky enough to have Krste Asanovic on our technical advisory board and are working with the Berkeley team. The results for the 'Rocket' core from Berkeley are using TSMC 40nm, but that isn't necessarily what we will produce lowRISC on.
    • by Casandro (751346)

      Well you can fix all the problems existing in current SoCs. For example you could build an architecture which enables you to have multiple SoC boot up from the same image, just like the PC does. You could have basic hardware support without binary blobs.

      In essence you could create a new portable platform where you could, for example, swap out the operating system on your mobile phone just by putting another OS onto your SD-card. That way even if your vendor doesn't support your device anymore, you can still

    • by AdamHaun (43173)

      But then I wondered -- what actually was the motivation for this all out Open Source SoC?

      There have been a few projects like this posted to Slashdot over the years. For some people, it's like climbing Mount Everest -- "because it's there". Some people want to extend the open hardware community down into chip design, possibly encouraging new start-up companies. (lowRISC seems to be in this category.) And some people think the semiconductor industry is a stagnant patent-choked wasteland in need of a Linux-style revolution. (These people are idiots, and do not know anything about hardware manufact

  • Stallman (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @09:38PM (#47682695)

    Finally, he can upgrade his computer...

  • by raymorris (2726007) on Friday August 15, 2014 @10:25PM (#47682851)

    For those who didn't read TFS, the project is led by people with a track record of getting things done. One team member helped design, and named, the RISC architecture. Others are leaders of the Raspberry Pi project. That suggests these people know how to do this sort of thing successfully.

    • Well, securing supply of an already existing chip at a good price and putting it on a board.

      That doesn't relate to designing an entire SoC and getting it fabbed.

      • by thegarbz (1787294)

        Well, securing supply of an already existing chip at a good price and putting it on a board.

        That doesn't relate to designing an entire SoC and getting it fabbed.

        You mean securing supply of an existing chip, at a good price point, building exactly what people were asking, delivering it at the price people wanted, marketting it well to the right customers, building up the correct user base, and all in all selling 2.5million units.

        You can try and downplay their successes anyway you want, but the reality is that there are MANY SoC devices out there which are better than the RPi but none of them managed to do what the team did with that device.

        If you want someone with a

  • Is there a FORTH interpreter for it?
    • by nurb432 (527695)

      If there isn't after the project stabilizes, and you cant port it yourself, then you shouldn't be asking about FORTH in the first place.

  • Are the performance comparisons actual results? I don't see that they have a working chip yet. Plus they appear to have compared their 64bit design against an older 32bit ARM chip that's already in production. It wouldn't surprise me if the chip ends up close to what they are claiming but it still seems a bit premature to be making those claims.
    • I don't see that they have a working chip yet.

      Yes, it's real silicon. There are 8 silicon implementations so far (from Berkeley at least, not from LowRISC). - Berkeley RISC-V user.

    • There are comparisons made by the Berkeley RISC-V team made using their test chip. There was a good discussion on those numbers on the recent eetimes article that might interest you (http://www.eetimes.com/author.asp?section_id=36&doc_id=1323406&_mc=RSS_EET_EDT).

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