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Open Source Finally Hits Real Silicon 247

Posted by timothy
from the mask-of-progress dept.
pagercam2 writes "While Open Source software has many success stories, hardware and particularly chips haven't had as much. While there have been multiple Open Source projects, none have come to a final product until now. The OpenRISC 1000 has been implemented by Flextronics Semiconductor(a division of Flextronics, the contract manufacturer possibly best known for its production of many Cisco products) along with PCI, 10/100 Ethernet, serial, GPIO etc. ... Details and pretty pictures available at OpenCores.org, and it even runs uClinux. Good Job!"
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Open Source Finally Hits Real Silicon

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  • by Bame Flait (672982) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:06PM (#7664113)
    It's all an attempt by these linux people to control the entire machine from the ground up. Don't trust them, they've let you down in the past.
    • Re:Watch out... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by robslimo (587196) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:29PM (#7664766) Homepage Journal
      I appreciate the joke, heh, heh.

      But I'd like to point out that opencores has had a fair amount of its open IP commited to silicon to date... not via lithographic processes maybe, but in FPGA's at least in onesies twosies lots if not more.

      It's pretty sweet to be able to put a Z80 core on an FPGA along with a few peripheral cores and make a machine-on-a-chip that can run your legacy embedded code with little or no change... and at a faster clock rate.

  • So what's Sparc V? (Score:4, Informative)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman @ g m a i l . c om> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:08PM (#7664141) Homepage Journal
    So what's Sparc V? Swiss Cheese [sparc.org]? Sparc specs have been available for a LONG time.

    • by interiot (50685) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:15PM (#7664209) Homepage
      Have open-source cores been available to implement those specs been available for a LONG time? Sounds like you're saying that just because we understand most of the MSWord file format, that means that we don't need StarOffice...
    • by annodomini (544503) <lambda2000@yahoo.com> on Monday December 08, 2003 @11:13PM (#7665400) Homepage
      Um, it's an open standard (by some definition), not open source.

      From the SPARC website [sparc.org]:

      Any version of the SPARC Instruction Set can be licensed from SPARC International, and then used to design processors implementing that open standard. Truly - in letter and in spirit, SPARC's open - for business!
      Hell, it doesn't even look like much of an open standard. You need to license the instruction set in order to be able to implement it. This is like saying UNIX is open source, since anyone can implement POSIX and license the UNIX trademark, and because a lot of people have licensed the source code. That's not open source; it may be an open standard (although I'd argue that in order to be an open standard, you can't restrict who implements it with licensing agreements). So really, SPARC is in no way open source, and I wouldn't even consider it an open standard.

      OpenCores, on the other hand, is really open source. You get the full design of the entire chip; you could just produce the chip by sending the CAD files to a chip fab and having them produce it. All of the Verilog/VHDL/etc. are open and freely available for you to use and modify. Even if you license the SPARC ISA, you still have to design the chip yourself.

      Hell, there are plenty of ISA's that you can license. The IA32 architecture is implemented by Intel, AMD, Transmeta, and others. PowerPC is implemented by IBM and Motorola. MIPS chips are produced by lots of people. Open ISA's are a dime a dozen. What's important about OpenCores is that the full chip design is completely open.

      • Since you already figured it out, I won't hassle you. :-) Except for one point:

        You need to license the instruction set in order to be able to implement it.

        What is the GPL? It is a license. You need to license GPL code before you can use it. The main difference is that everyone is used to GPL software being easily accessable (i.e. Click and download). That's not actually a requirement of the GPL or Open Source. In fact, if the shit hit the fan, many OS developers may receive no compensation for damages d
        • by msaavedra (29918)
          You need to license GPL code before you can use it.

          If by "use" you mean "run", you are absolutely incorrect. You are only required to accept the GPL if you want to distribute the software. To quote from the GPL (which you should read): "Activities other than copying, distribution and modification are not covered by this License; they are outside its scope. The act of running the Program is not restricted..."

  • by grub (11606) <slashdot@grub.net> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:08PM (#7664142) Homepage Journal

    If they make money with this and other chip fabricators get on the open source boat then perhaps one day we'll see an entire open source chipset and motherboard combo. No "SecureThisBIOS" and "TrustedThatOS" needed.. That would be damn sweet.
    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:13PM (#7664185) Journal
      I think it's either gonna end up like that, which would be great, or it's gonna end up with the slashdot crowd all being locked up for using Linux on hardware which breaches Uber-DMCA codes and is a tool of the terrorist communist nazis who go round killing puppies.

      Having just read back my own post, I'm really hoping we get OSH (open source hardware) going before it becomes illegal to develop.
    • Then anyone that uses an unapproved 'open' system, be it hardware or software, will be jailed if caught..

      Dont laugh, its comin... The hints are already in the air.
    • by Red Pointy Tail (127601) on Tuesday December 09, 2003 @12:22AM (#7665819)

      The cost of R&D and design of the chip is probably a drop in the bucket compared to building a chip fabrication plant. And much of it the advances required to make a fast chips would be in fabrication technologies (materials, layering, etc.) that might has nothing to do with the chip design. And these technologies are likely to be patented.
      • The cost of R&D and design of the chip is probably a drop in the bucket compared to building a chip fabrication plant

        Yes, but this is only true for companies who do full custom designs and do their own fabrication. There are plenty of ASIC companies which will do everything from mask development to testing for you. There are also companies to which you can outsource manufacturing, if you really want to go the full custom route.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:08PM (#7664145)
    ... really is this some sort of sick joke?
  • by ObviousGuy (578567) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:08PM (#7664146) Homepage Journal
    What's the roadmap from here for these open core processors? Is there one?
    • One day, an open-source processor design may be your only hope of a Free computer. (Not as in beer.)

      DRM, comming soon to a computer near you! Whether you want it or not! Restrictions that the whole family can enjoy together.
  • by Hubert_Shrump (256081) <<cobranet> <at> <gmail.com>> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:10PM (#7664158) Journal
    let the jokes about what sort of processor runs their webserver thread here...

    • homepage: (Score:4, Informative)

      by gimpboy (34912) <john.m.harrold@C ... il.com minus cat> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:14PM (#7664194) Homepage
      Project: OpenRISC 1000

      Silicon Implementations

      Several companies are making silicon implementations (ASICs) of OR1200 using different library vendors and foundaries, process geometries from 0.35um to 0.13um. For references contact lampret@opencores.org.

      Here is an example of System-On-Chip (SOC) from Flextronics Semiconductor. It is a 32-bit general-purpose microcontroller implemented on UMC 0.18um targetting embedded applications with maximum clock frequency of 160MHz. The SOC features:

      * OR1200 processor
      * Memory Controller (FLASH, SDRAM, SRAM, DPRAM)
      * PCI 2.2 32-bit interface 33/66MHz
      * Ethernet MAC 10/100
      * UART16550
      * GPIO
      * JTAG/Debug Interface

      The OR1200 is implemented with 8KB instruction and 8KB data caches, I/DMMU with 64 TLB entries each, power management unit, debug unit, tick timer and interrupt controller. Its 32x32 multiplier is coupled with a 64-bit MAC unit.

      Test board for testing the SOC has 64MBytes of SDRAM, 32MBytes of FLASH, RS232 transceiver, Ethernet 10/100 PHY. Connectors are for RS232, Ethernet, JTAG/Debug and several Mictor logic analyzer connectors. The board has its own DC/DC regulators for 3.3V IO power supply and 1.8V core power supply. It can be used as stand alone board or as PCI standard form plugin board.

      Software running on the SOC is Embedded Microcontroller Linux (uClinux) with a console on serial RS232. The console shows a network ping to a local network host - the ping shows the Ethernet 10/100 capability.

      This board was the first prototype built (not fully assembled at the time)
      Dynamic power of the entire test board is 1.4W. Dynamic current of the SOC IO power supply is 52mA (3.3V) and dynamic current of the SOC Core power supply is 86mA (1.8V). These are nominal values measured at 100MHz system clock.

      Maximum system clock frequency of the SOC is 160 MHz. System clock is used to clock not only the OR1200 processor but the entire chip (exception is memory controller which can also run at 1/2 system clock). Max system clock 160MHz was obtained at 25C ambient temperature, 3.3V IO and 1.8V core.

      Test boards are available to Flextronics Semiconductor ASIC customers. For more information about the test boards, the SOC technical details and business engagement please contact Flextronics Semiconductor.

      IMPORTANT NOTE: For a live demonstration of the SOC in Silicon Valley, California during Dec 8th 2003 and Dec 15th please contact Damjan Lampret.

      • Re:homepage: (Score:5, Interesting)

        by joe_bruin (266648) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:05PM (#7664582) Homepage Journal
        sounds like a good competitor to the arm and mips chips that currently dominate the low-powered-gpp embedded market.

        the real question is: where's the compiler? no, i didn't read the article, because the site is slashdotted. i presume they will have a gcc port shortly, if it doesn't exist.

        the real problem with open architectures (mips, arm, sparc, ...) is that everyone has a slightly different implementation, and gcc just has general compatibility mode. for example, the cpu i'm currently working on has a 2 cycle 32bit multiply capability, but can also process a (non-multiply) instruction in the pipeline during the second cycle. unfortunately, gcc is not aware of this and i have a wasted cycle. this leaves me the option of doing optimizations in assembly, or fixing the compiler.

        if this project is dedicated to optimizing the compiler for their cores, they could give established players a run for their money in performance. or at least force other core makers to distribute optimized compilers at far lower costs.

        this is a good thing for everyone.
  • by downix (84795) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:10PM (#7664162) Homepage
    This is indeed a good step for the Opencores project, but the subject itself is misleading.

    The LGPL'd SPARC-compatible processor Leon [gaisler.com] was put to silicon a long while ago.

    Give credit where credit is due, the Leon tracked over this territory years before OpenRISC.
  • Flextronics Xbox (Score:5, Informative)

    by doctor_no (214917) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:11PM (#7664166)
    >>Flextronics Semiconductor(a division of Flextronics, the contract manufacturer possibly best known for its production of many Cisco products).

    Flextronics would actually be best known for being the main manufacter of the Microsoft Xbox.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.11/flex.htm l
  • /.'ed already (Score:4, Informative)

    by Chas (5144) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:14PM (#7664196) Homepage Journal
    Here's the Google Cache: [216.239.39.104]

    Project: OpenRISC 1000

    Silicon Implementations

    Several companies are making silicon implementations (ASICs) of OR1200 using different library vendors and foundaries, process geometries from 0.35um to 0.13um. For references contact lampret@opencores.org.

    Here is an example of System-On-Chip (SOC) from Flextronics Semiconductor. It is a 32-bit general-purpose microcontroller implemented on UMC 0.18um targetting embedded applications with maximum clock frequency of 160MHz.

    The SOC features:

    • OR1200 processor
    • Memory Controller (FLASH, SDRAM, SRAM, DPRAM)
    • PCI 2.2 32-bit interface 33/66MHz
    • Ethernet MAC 10/100
    • UART16550
    • GPIO
    • JTAG/Debug Interface

    The OR1200 is implemented with 8KB instruction and 8KB data caches, I/DMMU with 64 TLB entries each, power management unit, debug unit, tick timer and interrupt controller. Its 32x32 multiplier is coupled with a 64-bit MAC unit.

    Test board for testing the SOC has 64MBytes of SDRAM, 32MBytes of FLASH, RS232 transceiver, Ethernet 10/100 PHY. Connectors are for RS232, Ethernet, JTAG/Debug and several Mictor logic analyzer connectors. The board has its own DC/DC regulators for 3.3V IO power supply and 1.8V core power supply. It can be used as stand alone board or as PCI standard form plugin board. Software running on the SOC is Embedded Microcontroller Linux (uClinux) with a console on serial RS232. The console shows a network ping to a local network host - the ping shows the Ethernet 10/100 capability.

    This board was the first prototype built (not fully assembled at the time)

    Dynamic power of the entire test board is 1.4W. Dynamic current of the SOC IO power supply is 52mA (3.3V) and dynamic current of the SOC Core power supply is 86mA (1.8V). These are nominal values measured at 100MHz system clock. Maximum system clock frequency of the SOC is 160 MHz. System clock is used to clock not only the OR1200 processor but the entire chip (exception is memory controller which can also run at 1/2 system clock). Max system clock 160MHz was obtained at 25C ambient temperature, 3.3V IO and 1.8V core.

    Test boards are available to Flextronics Semiconductor ASIC customers. For more information about the test boards, the SOC technical details and business engagement please contact Flextronics Semiconductor. IMPORTANT NOTE: For a live demonstration of the SOC in Silicon Valley, California during Dec 8th 2003 and Dec 15th please contact Damjan Lampret.

  • Open Source Chipsets (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raynach (713366) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:16PM (#7664216) Homepage
    I, for one, would like to see the open source community making open source chipsets, from the design, material, and the software to make it work. This is basically rebuilding the computer from the ground up, except with an open source backing of it. Why should major companies control the architechures that we are using? Although, the manafacteur of these chips may be a problem, but it would be very interesting to see electrical and computer engineers working on an open project to make a suprerior chip. This could, in fact, prove Moore totally wrong.

    Or, I'm just being fanatical and ranting about nothing, whatever.

    • by LittleBigScript (618162) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:25PM (#7664300) Homepage Journal
      Possibly the chips could be designed in parallel with an opensource kernel (can't think of one at the moment) and built like a amiga or atari style machine. Hardware, which is openware, would be a bunch of medium grade processors each running SMP on cheap processors.

      I think that a good and durable machine could be developed with a high speed bus and provide most, if not more speed than people need.
    • by twiddlingbits (707452) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:06PM (#7664588)
      Sure it could be done, up to and including the design verification using chip simulations, but actually making the chips and debugging the silicon process could get very expensive. I'm sure you could find a foundry in Taiwan or China to produce it, but would there be a market for it so you could get back all those startup costs? Do you know of some folks who have a few hundred K to invest against AMD, Intel, Motorola and IBM for a tiny slice of the market? Hardware has a lot of startup costs than software to get it to market. It's not like compiling the new code for your kernal fix. Maybe if it was specialized and optimized for embedded applications it might have a shot. I guess you could call it the "Penguin" chip since I'm assuming it would be optimized for Linux.
      • If every Open-Source advocate buys a share in this company it will prove that open-source is NOT communism.

        It would take off like gangbusters! Think of it as a donation to get the initial chips produced and off it will go!

        What's to stop them from making PC chips then?

        What's their stock ticker symbol?
    • by geekee (591277) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:33PM (#7664793)
      "Why should major companies control the architechures that we are using? "

      Because advanced CAD tools to design state of the art microprocessors costs millions of dollars. Even if you afford these tools, state-of-the-art fabs cost billions of dollars. Open Source works in software because equipment to develop software is cheap enough that anyone can afford it. Equipment to develop hardware costs a fortune, and needs some corporate support, or a lot of donations. Until a process makes it to MOSIS, the average person can't afford access to it.
      • You are correct, the cost of the software to design anything is astronomical, but it need not be.

        We have FPGA dev boards available for a resonable price now, we now need a completly open source design language to unify the development. Like a gcc for FPGA design, without GCC we would never have had Linux, without this open FPGA dev language, we won't ever have our own hardware.

        Yep, I will agree, it is expensive to own a fab, that might be why noone small does anymore, the big ones are paid for by hopefull
    • Why should major companies control the architechures that we are using?

      Because they are the only ones who can afford to develop and bring us real DRM. That's why. Do you think open source developers could come up with this kind of innovation?
      • >Do you think open source developers could come up with this kind(DRM) of innovation?

        yes, they could. but OS developers like to scratch an itch, not create an itch. Why create something to restrict legal access to information? in most cases, DRM is meant to stop legal actions. restricting access to information by technological means is not in line with the very idea of open source.
  • Hardware development (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adrianbaugh (696007) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:20PM (#7664256) Homepage Journal
    The development is naturally going to take longer for a finished product - nobody's going to release alpha (or even beta) silicon.
    After all, you really don't want to have to submit a critical bug patch when the first mass run of chips is half-done... (Or the coder whose bug it fixes!)
  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:22PM (#7664270) Homepage
    How about the old VW sedan, especially the off-patent parts? Can an open-source automobile design based on, say, the 1980 VW sedan be set-up and evolved in poor countries?

    In general, what problems would there be in creating open-source engineering designs for hardware of all kinds branched off from off-patent intellectual property? That, as it turns out, was the express purpose of the US Patent system as conceived by Benjamin Franklin, unless I am mistaken.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:35PM (#7664392)
      How about the old VW sedan, especially the off-patent parts? Can an open-source automobile design based on, say, the 1980 VW sedan be set-up and evolved in poor countries?

      You'll never be able to produce an automobile en mass scale cheaper than VW (or nearly as good).

      In general, what problems would there be in creating open-source engineering designs for hardware of all kinds branched off from off-patent intellectual property?

      Again you would never be able to mass produce the item cheaper than a proprietary company. Besides there is very little demand for box cameras and tube radios.

    • There's no way an old car design would meet emission regulations.

      That's a really big deal in most cities in developing countries, which are choking under smog levels that make LA look like Alaska.

      • the engine is just one part of the system, and apparently not the hardest one at that even(if you're just going for something that will get the job done).

        though, i can't imagine what the use would be for an open source car design, as there's plenty of equivalents already(shitloads of 'kit' sports cars exist for example). it's not that complicated to design a *car*, however it can be very complicated to design a car that would be like the cars sold in western countries nowadays(safety/rigidness calculations

    • Your right! This does happen, and your correct the VW Bug is very popular for this kind of thing. Other cars that have modded/evolved are the Fiat something (the US even wound up importing one of these as the Yugo) and Deux Cheveux.

      Cars are pretty open source as it is though. You can deconstruct a car, or even just look at it and decipher pretty much what it is or how to do one yourself. The problems in distribution come in the assembly lines, and how sophisicated a piece it can cheaply produce. Not to men
    • In general, what problems would there be in creating open-source engineering designs for hardware of all kinds branched off from off-patent intellectual property?

      Because physical hardware costs physical resources to build (modern designs are more efficient to construct because of advanced materials and fabrication techniques now available) and consumes physical resources (newer designs are more energy efficient), it's more likely to make sense to pay the expense of creating a modern design up front, depen
    • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:56PM (#7664945) Homepage
      Those of you who claim it can't be done for reasons of economy of scale or emission regulations, among other things, are mistaken. Much of the work that would be required has already been done and has been on the market for decades. I was not thinking of the First World market. In the Third World, hand-made auto parts and Mom-and-Pop auto part factories are common. In that context, they are in effect pirating existing IP. To go the whole way and create an open-source design spec with easy to determine compliance tests would be the next logical step.

      This represents a branch point from the First World industrial paradigm of economy of scale and elimination of manual labor, coupled with planned obsolescence and faddishness to ensure a short interval between new car purchases. An open-source car reverses this drastically. Low economy of scale and higher manual labor content coupled with an open-ended product lifetime shifts the focus from the manufacture of the car to that of its components. The car owner repairs the vehicle over a period of many years, possibly turning over the majority of its components one or more times over a long period of time. Small-scale manufacturers would build a mix of components based on demand for specific versions of a component. Clever management of the project should consciously support this. This business model is unsustainable by massive industrial concerns, but might work well in an economy with lower-skilled, small-scale enterprise. It would not be massively profitable, but may be a model for keeping large populations employed.

      If the interconnection ot the automobile's components is carefully and thoughtfully evolved, a single vehicle might be an ever-changing machine, gradually absorbing better components over time. It would not be a static piece of technology that quickly becomes obsolete. This is a subtext of my original post.

    • Have a look at the trucks built by GAZ in Russia [www.gaz.ru], and have you ever wondered by Ladas look so much like old Fiats?

      Of course, you'd never see old designs here, the standards bar moves up too fast.

      Xix.

    • It would depend on how things are interpreted. I think there would still be copyrights to deal with as well. There aren't a whole lot of countries that haven't signed the Berne Convention, but then, there are a lot of companies that make knock-off parts in the USA, Japan and elsewhere, so I don't know how that is handled, and if such a concept can scale up to a full car.

      Nifty idea though.

  • by Afromelonhead (730368) <ryan.scott.adamsNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:23PM (#7664280)
    I guess I can see how this would appeal to the many /. readers who are very pro-Open Source. To me, though, this has a distinctly different application than that of Open Source software. Sure, people have loads of hard drives and other random computers to go installing all their *BSD/Linux, but how many people have the ability to produce these chips? In addition, many, many people have at least some coding ability that can be used to contribute to the Open Source software projects, but do that many people really have the ability to recognize mistakes on the circuit boards and actually fix them?

    Just my two cents...

    • by Jennifer E. Elaan (463827) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:01PM (#7664557) Homepage
      Yes, many of us do. Companies like MOSIS will fab silicon cheaply, and for those who are truly poor, Xilinx FPGA's can suffice quite nicely. And designing a chip isn't that difficult. I have an implemenation of a small 32-bit stack-based CPU targetted to a Xilinx FPGA around here somewhere.

      I'm currently designing a tiny Single Board Computer (Z80-based) for embedded control applications. Sure, the specs aren't that impressive (a couple MHz, 32K RAM, 512K flash), but that's not the point. The thing is designed to fit on a robot and run on batteries.

      Open hardware designs are still about geeky people doing fun things.

      • by madcow_ucsb (222054) <slashdot2@[ ]ks.net ['san' in gap]> on Monday December 08, 2003 @10:23PM (#7665122)
        Yup, FPGAs are great. The biggest barrier there is getting it mounted, as most FPGAs come in BGA packages (which ain't exactly solder yourself material). Too bad none of the fancy ones come in PLCC so you can't use a thru-hole socket :(

        But once you have a board with the chip on it, you can even get all the development software for free from Xilinx and the programming hardware's not too expensive (last I checked anyway, I was always able to use my school's stuff).

        I always thought it was pretty nifty to compile a CPU and upload it into a chip using nothing but my laptop...
        • by Kallahar (227430)
          There are also lots of small companies who will solder your BGA onto your board though, and companies who will make you a board from a drawing. I think the biggest barrier is that it's harder to get into hardware design - you can't just fiddle around with someone else's code and figure out how everything works as easily as you can with software.
    • I'm sure most coders don't contibute to OSS projects because their code quality is n't good enough. OSS does n't work because of numbers it works because you can get at the source.

      If you go to the opencores website there is code for all sorts of things, PCI bus interface, DDR SDRAM, video controllers etc. Alot of stuff these days is done on FPGA's and it's not expensive like it used to be. Granted you wont be producing any high end processors but the majority of problems dont need them. If you're starti
    • but do that many people really have the ability to recognize mistakes on the circuit boards and actually fix them?

      Actually, thats my full time job. There are plenty of electronics techs out thier who are slowly or not so slowly losing their jobs. Most electronics are becoming less hardware and more software(thank you software guys you suck):P. So many of us could contribute in some way while we are sitting in the unemployment lines with the rest of IT the way alot of you guys conribute to your favorite o
  • by cartzworth (709639) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:37PM (#7664403) Journal
    ...their server is running off one of these since its already Slashdotted.
  • Because if so how do a download a free copy? Or does it get sent in the mail if i fire them an email? Does one pay postage as well? This IS opensource right? I just want the free stuff.
    • Step 1) Yes, you do download it. As Verilog source code (or *gag* VHDL)

      Step 2) Synthesize (and simulate if you don't trust the guys who designed it)

      Step 3a) Upload to FPGA (the coolest EE toy *ever*)

      -or-

      Step 3b) Send to fab of your choice (along with a big wad of cash) to be put in "real" silicon

      Step 4) Enjoy your new chip
  • by randyest (589159) on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:40PM (#7664422) Homepage
    I didn't know open source had made it to real hardware; thanks slashdot.

    Judging from the specs included at the linked site, this core compares favorably with CPU cores from ARM, NEC and others who make big bucks selling (and supporting) these cores for system integration. This is interesting, and it's maybe even more interesting that I haven't noted it in any trade journals (did I miss it, or has this thing been going on under the industry radar?)

    However, it seems like the CPU core itself is open-source, while a lot of the bonus features on the SoC (System On a Chip) example cited are IP from Flextronics (the the company that did the physical design for this open-source CPU core, which was manufactured by UMC). I can't tell for sure because the site is slashdotted already. The links on PCI, JTAG etc. would presumably tell if all these IP macros (besides the CPU) are open source also -- does anyone know for sure?

    Either way, the specs on the sample chip are interesting: SoC with OR1200 CPU implemented by Flextronics Semiconductor: 32-bit general-purpose microcontroller, UMC 0.18um fab process, maximum clock frequency of 160MHz. This SoC contains (1 each I assume): OR1200 processor, Memory Controller (FLASH, SDRAM, SRAM, DPRAM), PCI 2.2 32-bit interface 33/66MHz, Ethernet MAC 10/100. UART16550, GPIO, JTAG/Debug Interface.

    BTW, 160MHz is pretty darn good, until you see that 160MHz is not really "MAX" as in "max (worst-case) operating conditions" as one usually specs these things. Usually, when a spec says "maximum clock frequency", it means that you can safely run the part at these speeds under the entire range of allowed operating conditions (temperature and voltage). It's rather meaningless to tell the fastest it canpossibly go (which would be 0Kelvin, with a voltage almost high enough to fry the cip), so wpecs tend to tell you the max safe speed.

    That would be the highest temperature (usually ~70C, but it's really based on the junction temp, which is calculated from ambient temp, airflow, and package thermal characteristics -- higher than 25C in any case, since that's usually called "typical"), lowest voltage (usually nominal minus 5% or 10%; so for 3.3V system, worst case voltage would be 3.3-0.33=2.97V, for 1.8V core it would be 1.62V), and slowest process from the fab (whther this is the case or not is unspecified in the list). Instead, lower down the page I see:

    Max system clock 160MHz was obtained at 25C ambient temperature, 3.3V IO and 1.8V core

    I could take a wild guess and say the thing would run at least 125MHz (respectable for the tech at hand), so calling it 160MHz (but not at worst-case conditions) is a little odd, or at least non-standard. If it were a "normal" industry player quoting me a part's clock rate that way, I'd become very, very suspicious of them for the rest of the negotioations.

    It's still way cool, and if those IP cores are all available open source also, I'm really excited. But, I still have a lot of unanswered questions that I expected to see at least a brief mention of:
    • Is a hardware/software co-simulation environment available?
    • If so,what simulators and languages are supported?
    • What support model(s) are available for design teams considering this core?
    • What is the die size for the SoC made by Flextronics?
    • How much is Flextronics selling these SoC's for, or are the ASIC (customer-specific)?
    I guess I could do as the article suggests and call or email Flextronics:

    Test boards are available to Flextronics Semiconductor ASIC customers. For more information about the test boards, the SOC technical details and business engagement please contact Flextronics Semiconductor.


    ... but I don't think they'd appreciate those sorts of inquiries from an employee of a competitor :)
    • The OpenCores project includes JTAG, NIC, RS-232, PCI, Memory, etc resources. it's pretty complete. My guess is that a substantial amount of the real-estate is open-sourced.
    • However, it seems like the CPU core itself is open-source, while a lot of the bonus features on the SoC (System On a Chip) example cited are IP from Flextronics (the the company that did the physical design for this open-source CPU core, which was manufactured by UMC). I can't tell for sure because the site is slashdotted already. The links on PCI, JTAG etc. would presumably tell if all these IP macros (besides the CPU) are open source also -- does anyone know for sure?

      Objection! Asked and answered... c

      • Seems they are available, not just "chances are", if the other poster is correct,and I have no reason to doubt him. I'll check later when the site is revived. Anyway, this is extra cool. If verification and cosim environments are also available (with suitably rigrous regression tests and mfg test hooks), and I assume there must be since these went to fab (though they maybe owned by Flextronics in some way?), then I would expect to eventually (soon?) have a customer looking to use these instead of buying
        • I'm a little confused about the IBM reference, since if you're using UMC as a fab, you don't get to use IBM cores unless you also use IBM as an ASIC vendor on some level. Unless that has changed in the last 4 years, which I guess is possible.
          That was a guess based on their process technology agreements, and upon looking further, it appears I was wrong. UMC's IP catalog. [umc.com]
    • by Peyna (14792) on Monday December 08, 2003 @10:12PM (#7665046) Homepage
      Open Source Hardware has been around for a long time. Woz himself used to give away the schematics for the original Apple computer, because he believed it was more important to let everyone know how to make the stuff rather than make money off of it.
      • Some kinds of hardware, yes (though I've never heard that Woz story and it sounds a bit unlikely, especially since I know of a few occasions where the Woz got really upset over people trying to sell mac clones), but not VLSI circuits (Very Large Scale Integrated circuits, like this SoC/System On a Chip with a quarter of a million gates or so, which I'd bet this is, at least) in synthesizeable source, with verification and cosim environments. '

        As far as I know, no such thing has ever been released offic
    • by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Monday December 08, 2003 @10:28PM (#7665154) Homepage
      Your questions are all perfectly logical in the context of the traditional semiconductor design process, but reading them gave me an insight: open source IP cores have all the markings of a disruptive technology. They are too slow/low-quality/unsupported to be usable in traditional markets, but they are much cheaper and could enable new applications that don't exist today. And eventually they may start to eat away at the low end of the existing market...
      • Yes, but a lot of the "old" stuff has been available (even if the legality is not as 100% sure as open source) -- it's easy to get old things for free -- but you still have to implement and verify them, and that's usually where the rub is. This isn't somebody's idea of PCI -- it made it to fab and, assuming the chip works, has met 99.9% of the testing and verification that any ASIC vendor or custom house would do.

        This, I think, is unique in that it is not that old or outdated. We do several vaguely sim
  • by randall_burns (108052) <randall_burns@@@hotmail...com> on Monday December 08, 2003 @08:40PM (#7664429)
    Chuck Moore [colorforth.com] has been doing forth chip design for a while. His chip design software and Forth development system is public domain, but he hasn't Open Sourced his CPU designs yet. What makes his designs important IMHO is that they are very simple compared to conventional chip designs-which makes them appropriate for things like very low power consumption and makes it possible for one person to understand/implement their design.


    Part of what makes Open Source hardware important is that Open Source designs are what will actually be implemented as small scale manufacturing [ennex.com] becomes more practical. There are various proposals around for doing manufacturing of chips using rather different processes than we are used to today(i.e. "growing" chips in a chemical medium). What these ultimately take us towards is robotic infrastructure that can be remotely controlled and is as "self-replicating" as a lathe or a blacksmith's shop.

  • by illumin8 (148082) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:23PM (#7664728) Journal
    Before everyone sings the praises of Flextronics, keep this in mind:

    Flextronics also makes the famous XBox for Microsoft in their Guadalahara Mexico facility. I just listened to a special on NPR about globalization and NAFTA and an economist was saying that without NAFTA the XBox would cost $400.

    Your Cisco routers would probably cost more too, but I'm not sure if the cheap prices are worth it for the loss of US jobs.
    • That's way to simplistic. I don't know the current XBox prices, but let's say it's been on average $200, and would have been on average $400 without NAFTA. What you need to ask yourself is: how would the $200 difference have affected sales? (it likely would have destroyed any chance the XBox had) If the alternative was US production and a price of $400, would the box really be manufactured in the US without NAFTA, or in the far east? (likely Taiwan, Korea or China, not the US) Where will people spend the $2
  • SCO (Score:2, Funny)

    by HarryCallahan (673707)
    In latest news, McBride is claiming to have invented the integrated circuit
  • whats the point? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gyratedotorg (545872) on Monday December 08, 2003 @09:34PM (#7664804) Homepage

    maybe im missing something here, but i dont see how open hardware could ever be as successful as open source software. why? because the hardware required to build software (ie: a computer) is a commodity in most of the developed world. how many people own machines capable of producing microchips?

    i always felt that the power of open source lies in the fact that if you know how to program, you can make changes to the software yourself. now if i somehow got a hold of a schematic for my processsor and managed to improve the design, how would i go from paper to silicon?

    • by vik (17857) on Monday December 08, 2003 @10:39PM (#7665213) Homepage Journal
      Maybe today open hardware is an esoteric industry. But with self-assembling circuits being the way things are heading (What? IBM's announcement of self-assembling FLASH [eetimes.com] didn't make Slashdot? Shame on the mods.) that'll change. Why? Because the most practical way to make dense circuits will be as an FPGA where the self-assembling units are not FLASH modules but FPGA cells. In effect, all major components become FPGAs.

      But it won't stop there. Turning this new capability to its advantage, it will make sense to re-compile the CPU cores to perform the task at hand with maximum efficiency. If you're going to start doing that, an open design is nigh on essential.

      We are rapidly entering an era where it is worth designing things that cannot yet be built, because the manufacturing technology is catching up very rapidly. Even now, Sony are designing their consumer device chipsets as FPGAs to shorten time to market. The trend will not decrease.

      Vik :v)
      • But it won't stop there. Turning this new capability to its advantage, it will make sense to re-compile the CPU cores to perform the task at hand with maximum efficiency.

        Great! It won't be long now, until my flying car's computer has an automatically recompiling CPU!

        I'm sure were less than a decade away... No really, I mean it this time...
    • by geekee (591277)
      "now if i somehow got a hold of a schematic for my processsor and managed to improve the design, how would i go from paper to silicon?"

      Assuming you can come up with the cad tools to implement your schematic and layout changes, you can use MOSIS [mosis.org] to fab the chip. It costs money, but getting hardware for free as in beer is unrealistic.
    • I don't know.. (Score:2, Insightful)

      It seems to me like these designs can be tested in software before ever being sent to the presses, so loads of people can contribute to the design without having to actually get a finished chip.
    • i always felt that the power of open source lies in the fact that if you know how to program, you can make changes to the software yourself.

      So, in-line with saying that OpenHardware is useless, you are also saying that we shouldn't have open video/audio codecs in hardware either... No Ogg player for you.

      After all, what's the point? You can't make changes to the hardware yourself, therefore a hardware Ogg player would be pointless.

      Open is good.
  • by King Bo Bo (729843) on Tuesday December 09, 2003 @12:22AM (#7665812)
    Hardware Modo: Measure Twice. Cut Once. Software Modo: Release Often! Software is more conducive to Open Source development... Non?
  • really now... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 09, 2003 @01:20AM (#7666029)
    guys,

    while i'm sure the opencores crowd has done an outstanding job, you need to look further at the Big Picture.... and comparable processors.

    a motorola ppc8245 at 300MHz is $19 in qty (at least that's what we pay). it has all of the features enumerated in the article above (16K caches, PCI, MMU, ethernet, dual UARTs, etc etc etc), and is supplied replete with a Big DataBook of We're Pretty Damn Sure This Will Work Knowledge and 10e6 embedded programmers worldwide. not to mention an entire library of (linux AND powerpc) Google entries. you can attach all manner of BDM/BDI/JTAG debuggers (e.g. BDI2000) to an 82xx and there are a half dozen compiler suites (including gcc) to choose from. boundary scan routines are already understood and implemented, which eases ICT development at production time. if it's 2AM the day before the Big Pitch to the client, i'm pretty sure i can find someone who's awake and can fix my 82xx register access problem. i'm no motorola bigot (i always try to make a PIC fit until it can't do the job) but the economies of scale are WAY WAY WAY against the little guy when it comes to microprocessors.

    you are not selling your soul to moto for $19. you are making a cost effective, performance increasing, risk reducing decision, that's all.

    just another datapoint.

  • Lets see than what is?

    Websphere-Apache?

    MacOSX-Darwin?

    JBoss?

    come one poor slashdot poster do a little thinking please!
  • With open source software, we have already seen great software progress, both in quantity and quality. The competition between open source developers and closed source/commercial ones is paying off, with Linux having reached a status that it is a viable alternative to MS Windows.

    But with hardware, it is a different story. Open source hardware development is restrained by physical resources and its costs. Although an a small scale, we may see many examples, I wonder if and when it will be possible to compet
  • FPGA rules for sure (Score:3, Informative)

    by mr.Spike (edd sonic) (715943) on Tuesday December 09, 2003 @10:40AM (#7668036) Journal
    This is the future, i was shizoiding about in posts time ago.
    I use Xilinx FPGAs, which are both cheap and super powerful. For the company, i am woring for, i am developing digital signal poccessing processors and software for them using FPGA. one twenty dollar FPGA can process extremely high-order filters and analyzers on samplerates as high as hundred MHz, which we use for microwave communication in extremely baad environments.


    With my addiction to open sources i am on developing a open-hardware computer (for a long time already)and will put online all sources, schematics, cerbers, layouts, so any Geeky guy (or Woman -- Jennifer E. Elaan? sorry if i am wrong) will be able to put together one, or buy components and ask somebody who can.


    You would say You might need license for buying FPGAs used in by militaries for missle targeting (yes!) - then You would would be right. However there are no problem to by those in russia or anywhere else without having any license.


    So hold on for a home-brew computer era coming back (from the times we were assembling Sinclair ZX Spectrums 16k and 48k at our homes:). How those computers will reincarnate from tv-calculators to plaforms being able to "process" (remove:) macrovizions, copyright bits on multiple streams, as well as directly capture satellite broadcast and process it.


    Only drawback is that it will be with its own OS - BrainOS i am working on at te time. Just because it will be programmed not in sequential language, but parralel (VHDL) as it will be embedded in hardware (however modifiable by user at any time -- fpga!). We should be ready about that we could not (legally:) build any x86 on it, as we will have no license from intel. But i don't miss them. For running old x86 software and games we can use old x86 computers, which are widely available in trashmarkets.



    asap i will try to do some artickle on this and try to post it there, that we could discuss what is ood and what is not).. Leave me some personal message if You are interested in it, so i could see how many of us are interested in this project. I hope it to be the same as linux is for software world, it could be for hardware world.

"Indecision is the basis of flexibility" -- button at a Science Fiction convention.

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