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Sun Microsystems Hardware

Sun Niagara 2 CPU Now Open Source 158

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the stay-on-target dept.
downix writes "Late last night Sun Microsystems announced the immediate availability of the UltraSPARC T2, also known as the Niagara 2 CPU. While we all might not have a silicon fab in the basement, the access to this source code reaffirms Sun's commitment to open source, and in addition gives us FPGA-lovers something new to play with. The source code can be downloaded (with registration) from OpenSPARC.net. Already the previously open sourced T1 has spawned spin-off projects, such as the Simple RISC S1."
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Sun Niagara 2 CPU Now Open Source

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  • Home fabbing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumG (50515) <qg@biodome.org> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:24PM (#21677995) Homepage Journal

    While we all might not have a silicon fab in the basement
    Does anyone? About how much would such a luxury cost?

    • by AuMatar (183847)
      Oh, a few tens of millions. Not too much.

      If you were making embedded systems you could afford to pay a fab to make a batch, and likely save money over buying a new CPU from Sun/Intel/AMD. But this kind of thing isn't possile or cost effective for one off runs.
      • Re:Home fabbing (Score:4, Informative)

        by GwaihirBW (1155487) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:41PM (#21678139)
        See the sibling post below parent . . . this figure is way low for modern processors. There's a reason that there aren't many upstart processor manufacturers. The fabs are expensive and require significant expertise to work out all the fiddly problems that tend to crop up when dealing with a 65 nm process.

        Take, for example, the recent $2.5 Billion Intel plant in China [cnbc.com].
        • by FooAtWFU (699187)

          See the sibling post below parent . . . this figure is way low for modern processors. There's a reason that there aren't many upstart processor manufacturers. The fabs are expensive and require significant expertise to work out all the fiddly problems that tend to crop up when dealing with a 65 nm process.

          Take, for example, the recent $2.5 Billion Intel plant in China [cnbc.com].

          Yeah, but the Intel plant is designed to create thousands, millions, of low-power / high-performance devices. A hobbyist might be content with just a few.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_(semiconductors) [wikipedia.org] Wiki says over 1 billion, probably close, given the relative rarity of them even amongst commercial companies.
      • by QuantumG (50515)

        Another side effect of the cost has been the challenge to make use of older fabs. For many companies these older fabs are useful for producing designs for unique markets, such as embedded processors, flash memory, and microcontrollers. However for companies with more limited product lines, it's often best to either rent out the fab, or close it entirely. This is due to the tendency of the cost of upgrading an existing fab to produce devices requiring newer technology to exceed the cost of a completely new fab.

        So it sounds like the second hand obsolete market for fab equipment is a real steal.. and with the industry moving to 300mm wafer sizes soon..........

      • Re:Home fabbing (Score:5, Interesting)

        by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:54PM (#21678251)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fab_(semiconductors) Wiki says over 1 billion, probably close, given the relative rarity of them even amongst commercial companies.


        A billion is low-end fabs. High end cutting edge or even near-cutting edge technology costs much more. Maybe a billion for "old-school" tech like 130nm.

        No, your best bet is to just pay the few million to have someone fab it for you - there are very few companies that have their own fabs and can do it inhouse (e.g., Intel, IBM, AMD, Freescale (Motorola), Samsung, Toshiba), at least, cutting edge fabs. Low end fabs can be had for cheap (1um and larger), which is great if you don't particularly care about density (e.g., Gemplus - those smartcards have HUGE silicon for 32k memory and not much more).

        Most companies are fabless. They contract out the fab work to places like TSMC (amongst others - they're all well known). These include even heavyweight giants like nVidia, Altera, Xilinx and such. The only real downside is that delays can happen if machinery breaks down, or everyone submits a fab order simultaneously that causes backups at the fab and thus delays shipments. The turnaround time (from tapeout to getting chips back) can be 3 months or more. Luckily, most people test their designs out on FPGAs first to work out their bugs before committing them to silicon. Even places like Intel use computer simulation, discrete circuits, FPGAs, and such before they fab it out to their own fabs just because of the turnaround time.

        Of course, what I want to know is what's the smallest FPGA one can put this on and still have something workable. (Where things like bus timings and memory clocks still in the realm of "practical" and "in spec").
        • Re:Home fabbing (Score:4, Interesting)

          by FrankSchwab (675585) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:07PM (#21678351) Journal
          Actually, the cost for one-offs is significantly lower than your estimate.
          By using a Shuttle run, where the fab batches together a bunch of designs and runs them through using a single mask set, you can get 20 or so instances of a 130 nm design for roughly $100K. Of course, this assumes that you've already done the layout and verification steps yourself...
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by alienw (585907)
            I'd say you can do significantly cheaper, at least for small die sizes. I have seen prices as low as $20k for 100+ chips (on a multiproject wafer). Of course, this pretty much depends on the process and on how long you can wait. And the chip layout/synthesis/verification software costs several hundred thousand bucks per year per seat.
            • by afidel (530433)
              The software's expensive but it's not THAT expensive. Four years ago when I supported Cisco the cost per seat for the design software was in the mid five figure range and support/updates were 20% annual. Kind of made workstation pricing irrelevant, when the designer is making 6 figures and the software is that expensive a $25K workstation that would be amortized over 2-3 years was cheap.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by s_p_oneil (795792)
      All you need are Shrinky Dinks, a printer, and a toaster oven. ;-)

      http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/12/04/1940203&threshold=-1 [slashdot.org]

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Look here for fab costs.
      http://www.mosis.com/ [mosis.com]

      Packaging is crucial to making the thing work too, however.

      CAD tools to convert the RTL into GDS is also very expensive.
    • An email I just sent to QuantumG:

      On Wednesday 12 December 2007, QuantumG wrote:
      > Maybe one day it won't be silly :)

      Absolutely. I'm doing some research in the background. Try this:

      Litho-history [lithoguru.com] [PDF]
      Simple Lithography [blogspot.com] [blog]
      News story, semirelevant [news.com]

      query: lenses circuits wax Intel
      result: MY OWN PAGE *argh* (re: analytical instrumentation)
      I also get: "Bryan's page on semiconductor manufacturing" which is also,
      alas, me. But the page contains just as far as I've been able to get so
      far: how t

      • by monsted (6709)

        How can we achieve fabbing@home?
        You go to playboy.com, get out your lotion and tissues and... oh, faBBing... Never mind me.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Someone corrected the spelling of "Niagra" to "Niagara" - ScuttleMonkey, if it was you, I congratulate you!

    Honestly :) Good job!

  • Openbsd (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:29PM (#21678033)
    I can remember when the OpenBSD crew was having issues getting sparc specs. My how times have changed.
    • by Dan Ost (415913)
      I suspect that this would never have happened if it weren't for the efforts made by the OpenBSD crew to get information out of Sun.

      Any insiders want to post anonymously about how we got here with Sun?
      • by fm6 (162816)
        I doubt if the OpenBSD thing has anything to do with this. It's more in response to the fact that it's hard to sell SPARC-based systems as long as the CPU is perceived as a Sun-proprietary technology. So Sun opens up the SPARC design, and this allows them to claim that their chips are "commodity", just like AMD and Intel's.
      • Re:Openbsd (Score:5, Informative)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gmai ... m minus language> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @09:53PM (#21679527) Homepage Journal
        The Microprocessor's instruction set has been open for decades. It's all the hardware around the SPARC processor that OpenBSD had trouble getting info on. Sun used to make a huge number of hardware devices for which they provided no documentation on the internals. Of course, these days, most of it is pretty standard. But back then, hearing words like "SBUS" used to make people shudder.
  • This is... (Score:5, Funny)

    by larpon (974081) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @06:49PM (#21678207)
    Sun Viagra 2 CPU... Ok.. I need glasses
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:28PM (#21678511)

      Sun Viagra 2 CPU... Ok.. I need glasses


      Sun should market it as such, after all, you never want your server to go down.
    • by geschild (43455)
      "Sun Viagra 2 CPU... Ok.. I need glasses"

      I didn't know far-sightedness is a known side-effect of V1@9r@?

      Blindness [bbc.co.uk] is, though...

      Time to see a medical professional? ;D
  • I kind of wonder what the relevance of the availability of the
    blueprint of a modern multithreaded special-purpose server
    CPU means to the average Joe.

    Probably not much, unless Joe has got an degree with a specialization
    in computer science or electrical engineering.

    • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:11PM (#21678383) Homepage

      I kind of wonder what the relevance of the availability of the
      blueprint of a modern multithreaded special-purpose server
      CPU means to the average Joe.

      Probably not much, unless Joe has got an degree with a specialization
      in computer science or electrical engineering.


      The vast majority of (bachelors level) computer science degrees don't involve anywhere near enough focus on hardware issues for the "blueprint" of their CPU to be of any real use. The low level source of a CPU is of direct use to a vanishingly small subset of people. But, so is the source of the Linux kernel. I've never submitted a patch to the kernel. I wouldn't know where to start, frankly. And, I'm moderately qualified to do so, having done a fair amount of C, and a bit of embedded programming. I'm certainly more qualified to tinker with the kernel than I am with CPU source.

      But, that sort of isn't the point. The fact that you and I wouldn't know where to start with something like that doesn't change the fact that such people do exist. And, there are some people who can't do anything with it, but are really curious to know more about what it is, and this may be the spark that makes them decide to learn. You and I may get the result of one of those guys having access to this. so, even though my own project plans won't be influenced by the availablity, I do expect that you and I will be effected by it indirectly.
      • by init100 (915886)

        You and I may get the result of one of those guys having access to this. so, even though my own project plans won't be influenced by the availablity, I do expect that you and I will be effected by it indirectly.

        Which, incidentally, also applies to open source software. Many people sneer at open source software, saying that they and 99% of all people wouldn't know what to do with it anyway, so why should they care. You just wrote a nice explanation for those people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NovaX (37364)
        While software folks may not understand the hardware world, its quite sad that hardware folks rarely understand the software side as well. One of the most challenging jobs, which gets little attention, is software-hardware codesign. Those applications, like Cadence VLSI suite, are quite challenging as they require EE expertise to implement features while software mastery to develop the product. This results in very advanced, but also very cryptic, software stacks.

        I don't think open source hardware is too i
        • by spir0 (319821)

          While software folks may not understand the hardware world, its quite sad that hardware folks rarely understand the software side as well.

          Not any more. back when coding apps/games/demos in assembly was the thing to do, you had *plenty* of guys that knew the hardware and software inside and out. And while they're only 30-40 years old now, it's just a redundant practise.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by nebosuke (1012041)
            Not really. All serious competitors in demo competitions know the ISA and performance characteristics of the target architecture very well, but that is nowhere near knowing the hardware 'inside and out'. It's the difference between being very familiar with the API vs. the actual code implementing a library.
            • by spir0 (319821)
              the C64's and early Amigas were pretty static, hardware-wise. so once you knew what the CPU and custom chips did, you knew the hardware.

              Commodore released excellent books in the way of the ROM Kernel Manuals for the Amiga.

              what was the topic about? :)
      • by RobBebop (947356)

        I've never submitted a patch to the kernel. I wouldn't know where to start, frankly.

        I have also never submitted a kernel patch, but I want to try to answer your excuse. Start at kernel.org [kernel.org]. Read through the Bugzilla Open Issues [kernel.org]. I have read this book [oreilly.com] and it does an excellent job introducing the tools and techniques needed to work with the kernel.

        To attack the meat of the article (Open Source Sun CPU), it is valuable because it gives the specialized community a rallying point to get behind. There might be less than 100,000 people qualified to do anything meaningful with this... but

    • by nurb432 (527695)
      It might end up driving costs down for alternatives to intel/amd.

      It might not too, but its a least something to consider.
  • I noticed they released it under the GPL 2 (or is the chip design released under a different license?).

    Does this mean they could attack a company that started selling their processor or one based on this information with a patent?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by downix (84795)
      Only if said company did not pay for the license. Incidentally, the basic SPARC license is $100.
    • I noticed they released it under the GPL 2
      A license which you obviously have not read. Had you read it, you would see that Clause 7 specifically answers your question in the negative.
  • FPGA Huggers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @07:19PM (#21678435) Homepage Journal

    in addition gives us FPGA-lovers something new to play with

    How big an FPGA would be required to run this? Can you really download the configs and run it on an FPGA at a reasonable speed? Which Xilinx model?

    How about running Linux on that simulated Niagara2, like you can uCLinux on a Microblaze [wikipedia.org]? The exciting part would be replacing parts of the OS, like the TCP/IP stack, with "HW" configs for really high performance, customized per app. None of your processes use some dozen instructions? Drop their microcode in favor of a faster multiplier...
    • by nurb432 (527695)
      If you have to ask, i bet they are out of your price range. The big ones are NOT cheap.

      But ya, it can be done.
    • you need a Virtex. Expect to spend around $1200-$3000 on a kit to run a single core (like the S-RISC). You can't fit the full 8-core design in any single FPGA. And there is a huge performance and complexity factor of spreading a design out onto multiple chips.

      The Niagra is already pretty optimal in terms of reducing the area required for unused instructions. And there are very few instructions that aren't used in a typical kernel+apps on a Sparc. Also microcode doesn't take up much space, especially if you
  • Ya, we all have those HUGE ( read : expensive ) FPGAs required to implement something like this.

    Many of us are lucky to fit a Z80 into what we have.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by nahpets77 (866127)
      You may not be able to use them at home, but most university labs have expensive FPGAs lying around collecting dust. This is good news for people doing research at universities, where they often like to tinker with the hardware to try out new ideas.
    • I can fit the entire PACMAN arcade board (including the Z80) inside my S3E. 25% use, not counting RAM blocks, which are all in use because I'm too lazy to switch the code over to use an external ROM for the code. I have the $150 Spartan 3E Starter Kit.

      Z80s aren't that big.
      • by nurb432 (527695)
        I was being a bit sarcastic with the Z80 comment. You can fit an entire Sinclair Spectrum in medium sized chip.
  • Granted, you can't build a fab in your basement. But I imagine governments don't have this problem.

    What are the implications of Sun doing this? There are countries that wouldn't be allowed to buy their finished Niagara servers that could now, given time, reproduce their technology. Doesn't this make a mockery of the U.S. technology embargo against certain countries?

    Perhaps I'm simply missing something, but if AMD can get into hot water over their processors showing up in Iran why does Sun get a pass for
    • That's easy to fix. All they have to do is put a comment at the top of the CPU source code:

      /* Assumed main clock frequency: 25MHz */

      But seriously, this design info is just about useless without a $Billion fab full of equipment that these countries also aren't supposed to get. But why would they bother with all that when they can just buy quad core consumer PCs that rival the performance of these chips, and which are available to them on the open market from most any country other than the USA?

  • It is going to be interesting to see how the GPL is applied to RTL code.

    For example, what constitutes derivatives and what can be considered mere-aggregation.

    Also can I license an RTL block from another vendor and combine the two in a new chip ?

  • OSFPPC!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by syousef (465911) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @08:40PM (#21679049) Journal
    While we all might not have a silicon fab in the basement

    You don't? How tragic. I'm afraid you'll have to hand in your geek card. In the meantime I wonder if the OLPC guys would consider a OSFPPC (One Silicon Fab Plant Per Child) program.
  • I searched for a link to an actual download (yes, I have a use for the code). Opensparc.net just refers to the "Sun download Center" (no link). Searching on Sun's site, I can only turn up OpenSPARC T1 and not T2.
  • by sootman (158191) on Wednesday December 12, 2007 @09:25PM (#21679365) Homepage Journal
    who's the considerate jerk who tagged this story 'thanks'? We don't work that way here at Slashdot, buddy. When a company does something like this, you're supposed to tag it 'whocares' or 'toolittletoolate' or something equally dismissive. Damn noobs...
  • not yet pal, just not yet. you'll see.
  • by teknopurge (199509) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @09:41AM (#21683193) Homepage
    I've had this position for about 2 years now.

    IMO, Sun is one of the only companies left innovating.

    -Google is just rehashing old ideas.(Gmail? come on....I had webmail 10 years ago.)
    -Oracle(eh... RDBMS v45.2 anyone?)
    -IBM(If I see one more pointless black-and-white commercial about "ideas" I'm going to scream. IBM should listen to their marketing department and instead of telling us to "Stop thinking, start doing" they should create something that isn't AIX)

    And, I will be the lone voice and dare to say that Microsoft, yes them, has a few teams that are starting to 'get it'. Apple is doing a great job with human-computer interaction.

    Show me new, for I am tired of your old.
  • So I was all set to download the source and build some chips in my basement fab, but then I looked at the system requirements. It's only for Solaris, and worse, it's only for SPARC. How the heck am I supposed to run this software so I can build a CPU when I need that same CPU to run the software? Obviously, Sun is going to have a lot of SPARCs sitting around from earlier development, so they wouldn't have this problem themselves, but they should have thought of it, at least, and provided binaries for Cell o
  • Sorry, I mean I love that they're giving silicon designs out the world, but if there was any really important innovation in the intellectual property behind the Niagara II that would give Sun an advantage in the marketplace they would not be exposing it to all their competitors.

    The only business reason I can imagine that Sun would do this is the hope that lot's of Niagara foundries would bloom and thereby cut their costs for sourcing the part.

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