Building A RISC-V Desktop

If you want to talk about RISC-V, the Open Source instruction set for CPUs, you’re probably talking about microcontrollers. You can buy small but powerful RISC-V micros on par with an ARM Cortex-M4 right now. Deep in the pipeline are cores for something resembling SoCs, the kind you’d find in desktop NAS solutions, maybe a few routers, and smart TVs. This is great and all, but our idea of a ‘computer’ is still a desktop. When is the Open instruction set desktop coming? Well, it’s here right now. [Andrew Back] built a RISC-V desktop computer. It runs Linux, it comes in a case, it has HDMI and USB, there’s a graphics card in there somewhere, and it works. This is a desktop, running with a RISC-V core.

The core of this build is the HiFive Unleashed, a Linux-capable board from SiFive, makers of the first (production) RISC-V microcontroller. This board uses the Freedom U540 SOC built with a 28nm process, has 8GB of DDR4, and 32MB of Flash. For a board built on an Open archetecuture this is impressive, but it comes at a cost: the HiFive Unleashed ran for $1000 during its crowdfunding campaign.

But a board with an Open CPU does not a desktop make. You need peripheral IO, maybe a few PCIe, and hopefully a SATA interface. This problem has been solved by Microsemi with an Expansion board for the HiFive Unleashed. It includes a big ‘ol FPGA and all the connectors you could use. It also costs $2000.

With most of the parts ready to go, a few buttons, M.2 PCIe and SATA SSD storage, a graphics card, and a nice acrylic case were added. Thanks to Western Digital, building Linux was as easy as building Linux, and you end up with a desktop computer with a RISC-V brain.

Compared to a bog-standard ‘gaming machine’, this is an expensive build. The quick and dirty ballpark for the price is somewhere around $4000 USD for a machine that will let you check your Facebook. There’s a video of the machine running, you can check that out below.

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Microchip Acquires Microsemi For $8.35B

Microchip has acquired Microsemi for $8.35 Billion dollars. Rumors of this acquisition were floating around earlier this week, but now the deal is done.

This acquisition is the latest in a years-long process of consolidation in the silicon industry. Previously, Broadcom attempted a hostile takeover of Qualcomm for One… Hundred… Billion dollarsLattice would have been bought if the deal wasn’t shut down for national security concerns. Of course, Microchip bought Atmel in a deal likened to the fall of Constantinople, NXP and Freescale merged, Intel bought Altera, Linear and Analog are one, and On Semiconductor acquired Fairchild.

With the acquisition of Microsemi, Microchip will be looking to add a few interesting components and capabilities to their portfolio. In contrast to Microchip’s portfolio, you won’t find many Microsemi parts on a hacker’s workbench; they’re dealing with stuff like optical networking and avionics. Closer to home, they have a large line of FPGAs and some nice frequency synthesizers.

Of course, there are slightly cooler components in Microsemi’s portfolio. If you’ve ever wanted a rad-tolerant telemetry controller for reaction wheels and thruster assemblies, they’ve got your back. Just connect that to Microchip’s rad-hard Arduino and you have a complete satellite built from Microchip parts.