a CH32V003 Linux-bearing PCB, single-sided, hand-etched, lovely

Bring Linux To CH32V003 Through, Yes, RISC-V Emulation

Like playing around with Linux on low-power devices? You’d be hard pressed to find a better example than the [tvlad1234]’s linux-ch32v003 project. It’s not just a one-off — it’s something you could build right now, since it requires hardly any extra parts.

With help of a 8 MB PSRAM chip for RAM supplementation purposes and an SD card, plus some careful tailoring of the Linux .config parameters, you get Linux on a chip never meant to even come close to handling this much power. The five minutes it takes to boot up to a prompt is part of the experience.

As usual with [tvlad1234]’s projects, there’s a fun twist to it! Running Linux on this chip is only possible thanks to [chlohr]’s mini-rv32ima project, which, as you might remember, is a RISC-V emulator. Yes, this runs Linux by running a RISC-V emulator on a RISC-V chip. The main reason for that is because the MCU can’t map the PSRAM chip into RAM, but if you use an emulator, memory mapping is only a matter of software. Having applied a fair amount of elbow grease, [tvlad1234] brings us buildroot and mainline Linux kernel configs you can compile to play with this — as well as a single-layer-ready KiCad board project on GitHub. Yep, you could literally etch a PCB for this project from single-sided copper-clad FR4 with a bit of FeCl3.

While the CH32V003 is undoubtedly a more impressive target for Linux, the RP2040 Linux project might be more approachable in terms of having most of the parts in your parts box. At least, up until we start valuing the CH32V003 for all the cool stuff it can do!

Compute The Mandelbrot Set With A Custom RISC-V CPU

When faced with an FPGA, some people might use it to visualize the Mandelbrot set. Others might use it to make CPUs. But what happens if you combine the two? [Michael Kohn] shows us what happens with his RISC-V CPU with an instruction specially made for computing the Mandelbrot set.

[Michael] takes us through the unusual process of turning his 8008 into a RISC-V CPU. Re-using bits of logic here and replacing other logic there leaves him with a functional RISC-V core. Not finished, [Michael] takes it upon himself to also create a custom instruction just for computing a point for the Mandelbrot set, accelerating the demo from twenty-three seconds to merely one!

Still not finished, [Michael] also creates an implementation of the long gone F100-L CPU, once again with added Mandelbrot set flair, simultaneously with the RISC-V project. Finally, he ports his “Java Grinder” Java bytecode compiler to both RISC-V and the F100-L, because Java runs on 1 Billion devicesTM.

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CH32 RISC-V MCUs Get Official Arduino Support

Like many of you, we’ve been keeping a close eye on the CH32 family of RISC-V microcontrollers from WCH Electronics. You can get the CH32V003, featuring 2 kB RAM and 16 kB of flash for under fifteen cents, and the higher-end models include impressive features like onboard Ethernet. But while the hardware is definitely interesting, the software side of things has been a little rocky compared to what we’ve come to expect from modern MCUs.

Things should start looking up a bit though with the release of an Arduino core for the CH32 direct from WCH themselves. It’s been tested on Windows, Linux, and Mac, and supports the CH32V00x, CH32V10x, CH32V20x, CH32V30x, and CH32X035 chips. Getting it installed is as easy as adding the URL to the Arduino IDE’s Boards Manager interface, though as the video below shows, running it on Linux does require an extra step or two.

So far, we’ve seen several projects, like this temperature sensor or this holiday gizmo that use [cnlohr]’s open-source toolchain. But there’s no question that plenty of hobbyists out there feel more comfortable in the Arduino environment, and if those folks are now able to pick up a CH32 and do something cool, that means more people jumping on board, more libraries developed, more demo code written…you get the idea.

Just like the ESP8266’s popularity exploded when it was added to the Arduino IDE, we’ve got high hopes for the CH32 family in the coming months.

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A RISC-V Security Key

The TKey is a RISC-V-based security key that plugs into a USB port. The device has a number of features, including a device-specific serial number, RAM scrambling, and a monitor that kills the CPU in the event of access to protected memory. There is also an FPGA that, on the end-user version, is locked down. This prevents you from changing the core features and the unique ID number for the device.

As part of the start-up code, the device calculates a hash of the application and merges it with the device ID and, potentially, a user-defined secret. If this number matches a previous calculation, it is reasonably certain that nothing has changed between the times of the calculations.

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Trouble Brewing For RISC-V As Issue Of Technology Transfer Is Questioned

Within the messy world of international politics, a major consideration by governments concerns which types of kn0w-how and technology can be transferred and sold to other nations, with each type facing restrictions depending on how friendly the political relations are with the target country at that point in time. Amidst all of this, there are signs that a so far relatively minor player in the world of CPU instruction set architectures – RISC-V – may become a victim of this, as a bipartisan group of US politicians is petitioning the White House to restrict transfer of know-how (so-called Intellectual Property, or IP) to RISC-V, as this may benefit adversaries like China.

As a US citizen who is involved in the RISC-V ecosystem, [Andrew ‘bunnie’ Huang] feels rather strongly about this, and has written an open letter to the US President, pleading to not restrict the way that US citizens can deal with the Switzerland-based RISC-V organization. This comes as the California-based RISC-V startup SiFive has announced that it’ll lay off 20% of its workforce. Depending on how a restriction on RISC-V is implemented, this could mean that US citizens would be forbidden from contributing to this ISA and surrounding ecosystem.

China has made it clear that RISC-V is a big part of its strategy to loosen its dependence on the West along with its investments in its MIPS-based Loongson processors, all of which strengthens the case for restricting US participation in RISC-V, even if it forces US companies like SiFive to move countries or cease its operations.

(Thanks to [cbjamo] for the tip)

Android: Coming Soon To A RISC-V Processor Near You

In the roughly decade and a half since the Android mobile operating system appeared on the scene it has been primarily sold on devices with an ARM core at their heart, but along the way it has also appeared for other architectures. If you had a MIPS Android phone you may have been in the minority, but Intel phones enjoyed some popularity, and the up-and-coming new kid in the world of Android is RISC-V. For anyone interested in this last architecture it’s worth looking at the Google Open Source blog, in which they’ve published an overview of the current status of the project.

In short, it’s full steam ahead — as the development environment and emulation is in place for RISC-V Android. It’s certain we’ll start seeing RISC-V phones on the market soon, but perhaps that’s not the part which should interest readers the most. Over the last decade we have seen an explosion of inexpensive ARM single board computers, and though some of them such as the Raspberry Pi owe their heritage to set-top-box SoCs, it’s fair to say that a strong driver for this trend has been the proliferation of powerful mobile chips. A take-up of RISC-V driven by Android would mean a similar explosion of powerful SoCs with those  cores, leading we hope to much more accessible and powerful RISC-V computing. Sadly we expect them to still come with proprietary peripherals leading to plenty of closed source blobs, but we can’t have everything.

If you’d like to read more about the whole blob situation and RISC-V, we’ve got you covered.

Tiny Linux On A No-MMU RISC-V Microcontroller

In the vast majority of cases, running a Linux-based operating system involves a pretty powerful processor with a lot of memory on hand, and perhaps most importantly, a memory management unit, or MMU. This is a piece of hardware which manages virtual memory, seamlessly giving each process its own memory sandbox in which it shouldn’t be able to rain on its neighbours’ parade. If there’s no MMU all is not lost though, and [Uros Popovic] gives us a complete guide to building the MMU-less μClinux on a RISC-V microcontroller.

The result is something of a Linux-from-scratch for this platform and kernel flavour, but it’s so much more than that aside from its step-by-step explanation. It’s probable that most of us have heard something of μClinux but have little direct knowledge of it, and he leads us through its workings as well as its limitations. As examples, standard ELF binaries aren’t suitable for these systems, and programmers need to use memory-safe techniques.

Whether or not any of you will run with this guide and build a tiny MMU-less Linux system, anything which expands our knowledge on the subject has to be a good thing. it’s not the first time we’ve seen a RISC-V microcontroller turned to this task, with a nifty trick to get round the limitations of a particular architecture.