Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Silicon

This Friday, will be graced with purveyors of Open Source Silicon. Join us in the Hack Chat this Friday, April 14 at noon PDT (19:00 UTC) for a conversation with SiFive, an ‘Open’ silicon manufacturer.

This week, we’re sitting down with SiFive, a fabless semiconductor company and makers of the HiFive1, an Open Hardware microcontroller that you can just go out and buy. Late last year, SiFive released the HiFive1, an Arduinofied version of SiFive’s FE310 System on Chip. This SoC is a RISC-V core and one of the first microprocessors that is completely Open Source. It is an affront to Stallmanism, the best hope we have for truly Open hardware, and it’s pretty fast, to boot.

SiFive isn’t only working on Open Hardware microcontrollers — their business plan is pretty much, ‘OSH Park, but for silicon’. If you have a design for a new type of chip, they’ll work with foundries to turn your design into a cute little epoxy impregnated blob. It’s a fascinating business plan, and you’re going to hear all about it this Friday in the Hack Chat.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

We’ve got a lot on the table when it comes to our Hack Chats. On April 21st, we’re going to be talking magnets with Nanomagnetics. Making magnets, collecting magnets, playing with magnets, it’ll all be over on the Hack Chat.

12 thoughts on “Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Silicon

  1. “This SoC is a RISC-V core and one of the first microprocessors that is completely Open Source. It is an affront to Stallmanism, the best hope we have for truly Open hardware, and it’s pretty fast, to boot.”

    So if the SoC is Open Source, how is it an “affront” to Stallmanism. AFAIK the “GPL” is “God” in the Stallmanist Religion.

      1. No, I very much mean an Open Source microcontroller is an affront to Stallmanism.

        Stallmanism is a moral imperative. However, all arguments *for* Open Source are utilitarian (security, privacy, etc…). By all accounts, Stallman has failed to communicate the morality of Open Source, despite the availability of arguments that support his position. In doing so, Stallmanism – defined as the morality of Open Source – will die with Stallman. He’s 64 years old, so we *kinda* need to pin this down while he’s still with us. He’s got some work to do, because his more recent essays lean towards the utilitarian aspect of Open Hardware.

        An Open Source chip, manufactured by a random factory, clearly does not align with the four freedoms. This isn’t a dig at RISC-V or SiFive, merely an observation that the *utility* Open Source philosophy of the 80s, and the philosophy Stallman espouses, is fundamentally incompatible with the modern era and the legal concepts that enabled it in the first place.

        But whatever. I’m just some idiot blogger, so feel free to ignore this.

    1. Perhaps because it still costs money? Physical hardware can’t be provided free of charge without loss, thanks to physics.

      Stallman has said that all software should be free, but extending this philosophy to hardware makes even less sense. Even open-source hardware is innately incompatible with his views, unless we get some government to subsidize it. Of course, those subsidies depend on income tax, which depends on my income, which comes from selling closed-source software and hardware.

    2. There’s open open, which is do what you want with it, and Stallman/GPL which is do what you want with it provided you provide all the extra work you did to it “free” under same license too.

      So, GPL not all that popular with companies that would otherwise use open building blocks, because of GPL infection.

      1. GPL preserves the freedoms of the end user at the cost of taking freedoms away from the middleman.

        When you consider that the GPL was invented specifically because RMS could no longer get access to the source code to fix a bug in a printer, everything else follows.

  2. I don’t understand what Brian Benchoff means by “the morality of Open Source”, or how Stallman has failed to communicate that but Stallman has made specific commentary about hardware which seems to acknowledge some of the realities behind fabricating it.

    It seems that the designs for both the HiFive1 board and RTL for the E310 silicon are available, albeit under the Apache license instead of the GPL license. I don’t see the process-related design and layout files necessary to actually fabricate silicon so perhaps this is the “affront”?!? However, it does seem that this project is along the spirit of Stallman’s essay, at least a lot more of the way than other hardware.

    1. Sifive soc is based on rocket chip generator made by UC berkeley. They have modified it to support 32 bit isa.
      kudos for them to release it as opensource and give a nice package (I tested it with Arty FPGA board). they were not obliged to.
      It’s just a matter of issuing a simple make command once all is installed.
      But in the end it’s just an educationnal SOC: almost no ram (puny 16kB TCM), no low power support, no advanced peripherals… But great to learn about chisel and risc-v

      1. Bearing in mind that the most popular Arduino boards have 1/8th the RAM (2KB), 512 times less flash (32KB vs 16MB), and are 20 times slower (16 MHz vs 320 MHz, both executing one instruction per clock), as well as being 8 bit vs 32 bit — the HiFive1 is a pretty cool little board.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.