Hackaday Links: April 8, 2018

SiFive raised $50 Million in funding. SiFive is a semiconductor working on two fronts: they want to democratize silicon prototyping, and they’re the people making the HiFive series of microcontrollers and SoCs. The HiFives are built on the RISC-V instruction set, a Big-O Open instruction set for everything from tiny microcontrollers to server CPUs. With RISC-V, you’re not tied to licensing from ARM or their ilk. Recently SiFive introduced an SoC capable of running Linux, and the HiFive 1 is a very fast, very capable microcontroller that’s making inroads with Nvidia and Western Digital. The new round of funding is great news for anyone who wants Open Source hardware, and the silicon prototyping aspect of it is exceptionally interesting. Great news for SiFive.

Guess what’s in just a few weekends? The Vintage Computer Festival Southeast. The VCFSE is Hotlanta’s own vintage computer festival, with a whole host of speakers, exhibits, and consignment to tickle those vintage dopamine receptors. On deck for the speakers is [Michael Tomczyk], one of the people responsible for the VIC-20, and [Scott Adams], no the other [Scott Adams], creator of adventure-style games for personal computers but not that adventure-style game. The exhibits will include Japanese retro computers, simulating an ENIAC and a mechanical keyboard meetup. If you’re around Georgia, this is an event worth attending.

Conference season is just around the corner, and you know what that means. It’s time to start ramping up for #badgelife. What is badgelife? It’s a hardware demoscene of electronic conference badges. This year, the badgelife scene has stumbled upon something everyone can get in on. Add-ons! They’re electronic hats (or shields, or capes) for all the badges. Physically, it’s a 2×2 pin header. Electronically, it’s power, ground and I2C. Want to prototype your own add-on? Good news, there’s a development board.

The Titius-Bode law states the semi-major axes of planets follow a geometric progression. The (simplified, incorrect) demonstration of this law states Mercury orbits at 0.25 AU, Venus at 0.5 AU, Earth at 1 AU, Mars at 2 AU, and continues to the outer planets. The Titius-Bode law is heavily discredited in the planetary science community, and any paper, talk, or manuscript is rejected by scientific editors out of hand. The Titius-Bode law is the planetary science equivalent of flat Earth conspiracy theories and Nazi moon bases; giving any consideration to the idea confirms you’re a moron. This week, some consulting firm posted something that is the Titius-Bode law on their blog. Why? So it could be submitted to Hacker News for that sweet SEO. This submission was upvoted to the top position, and is a wonderful springboard to argue an interesting point on media literacy. I posit the rise of news aggregators (facebook, twitter, digg, reddit, and HN), is the driving force behind ‘fake news’ as lay people become the gatekeepers. Prove me wrong.

The Department of Homeland Security has confirmed there are cell-site simulators (Stingrays, IMSI-catchers, or otherwise known as your own private cell phone base station) around Washington DC. It’s unknown who is operating these simulators, or even where they are. There are two things to read between the lines with this information: Duh, there are rogue Stingrays in DC. Holy crap duh. I bet there are also some around midtown Manhattan. You can buy the stuff to do this on eBay. Personally, I’ve found half a dozen Stingrays or other rogue cell stations this year (guess where?). Second, why is this a news item now? Is this a signal that the DHS will start clamping down on stuff you can buy on eBay? Hop to it, people; cellular hardware is a great way to make a liquid nitrogen generator.

SiFive Introduces RISC-V Linux-Capable Multicore Processor

Slowly but surely, RISC-V, the Open Source architecture for everything from microcontrollers to server CPUs is making inroads in the community. Now SiFive, the major company behind putting RISC-V chips into actual silicon, is releasing a chip that’s even more powerful. At FOSDEM this weekend, SiFive announced the release of a Linux-capable Single Board Computer built around the RISC-V ISA. It’s called the HiFive Unleashed, and it’s the first piece of silicon capable or running Linux on a RISC-V core.

SiFive’s HiFive Unleashed

The HiFive Unleashed is built around the Freedom U540 SOC, a quad-core processor built on a 28nm process. The chip itself boasts four U54 RV64GC cores with an additional E51 RV64IMAC management core. This chip has support for 64-bit DDR4 with ECC and a single Gigabit Ethernet port. Those specs are just the chip though, and you’ll really need a complete system for a single board computer. This is the HiFive Unleashed, a board sporting the Freedom U540, 8GB of DDR4 with ECC, 32MB of Quad SPI Flash, Gigabit Ethernet, and a microSD card slot for storage. If you don’t mind being slightly inaccurate while describing this to a technological youngling, you could say this is comparable to a Raspberry Pi but with a completely Open Source architecture.

News of this caliber can’t come without some disappointment though, and in this case it’s that the HiFive Unleashed will ship this summer and cost $999. Yes, compared to a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone that is an extremely high price, but it has to be borne in mind that this is a custom chip and low-volume silicon on a 28nm process. Until a router or phone manufacturer picks up a RISC-V chip for some commodity equipment, this architecture will be expensive.

This announcement of a full Single Board Computer comes just months after the announcement of the SOC itself. Already, GCC support works, Linux stuff is going upstream, and the entire Open Source community seems reasonably enthusiastic about RISC-V. It’ll be great to see where this goes in the coming years, and when we can get Linux-capable RISC-V chips for less than a kilobuck.

SiFive Announces RISC-V SoC

At the Linley Processor Conference today, SiFive, the semiconductor company building chips around the Open RISC-V instruction set has announced the availability of a quadcore processor that runs Linux. We’ve seen RISC-V implementations before, and SiFive has already released silicon-based on the RISC-V ISA. These implementations are rather small, though, and this is the first implementation designed for more than simple embedded devices.

This announcement introduces the SiFive U54-MC Coreplex, a true System on Chip that includes four 64-bit CPUs running at 1.5 GHz. This SoC is built with TSMC’s 28 nm process, and fits on a die about 30 mm². Availability will be on a development board sometime in early 2018, and if our expectations match the reality of SiFive’s previous offerings, you’ll be able to buy this Open SoC as a BGA package some months after that.

Continue reading “SiFive Announces RISC-V SoC”

Arduino Cinque – The RISC-V, ESP32, WiFi, Bluetooth Arduino

This weekend at the Bay Area Maker Faire, Arduino in conjunction with SiFive, a fabless provider of the Open Source RISC-V micros, introduced the Arduino Cinque. This is a board running one of the fastest microcontrollers available, and as an added bonus, this board includes Espressif’s ESP32, another wonderchip that features WiFi and Bluetooth alongside a very, very powerful SoC.

Details on the Arduino Cinque are slim at the moment, but from what we’ve seen so far, the Cinque is an impressively powerful board featuring the RISC-V FE310 SoC from SiFive, an ESP32, and an STM32F103. The STM32 appears to be dedicated to providing the board with USB to UART translation, something the first RISC-V compatible Arduino solved with an FTDI chip. Using an FTDI chip is, of course, a questionable design decision when building a capital ‘O’ Open microcontroller platform, and we’re glad SiFive and Arduino found a better solution. It’s unknown if this STM32 can be used alongside the FE310 and ESP32 at this point.

We’ve taken a look at SiFive’s FE310 SoC, and it is an extremely capable chip. It was released first at the HiFive1, and our hands-on testing revealed this is a chip that outperforms the current performance champ of the Arduino world, the Teensy 3.6. Of course, with any new architecture, there will be a few problems porting the vast number of libraries over to the FE310, but SiFive has included an Arduino compatible SDK. It’s promising, and we can’t wait to see SiFive’s work in more boards.

Friday Hack Chat: Open Source Silicon

This Friday, Hackaday.io will be graced with purveyors of Open Source Silicon. Join us in the Hackaday.io 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 Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, 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.

Hands On With The First Open Source Microcontroller

2016 was a great year for Open Hardware. The Open Source Hardware Association released their certification program, and late in the year, a few silicon wizards met in Mountain View to show off the latest happenings in the RISC-V instruction set architecture.

The RISC-V ISA is completely unlike any other computer architecture. Nearly every other chip you’ll find out there, from the 8051s in embedded controllers, 6502s found in millions of toys, to AVR, PIC, and whatever Intel is working on are closed-source designs. You cannot study these chips, you cannot manufacture these chips, and if you want to use one of these chips, your list of suppliers is dependent on who has a licensing agreement with who.

We’ve seen a lot of RISC-V stuff in recent months, from OnChip’s Open-V, and now the HiFive 1 from SiFive. The folks at SiFive offered to give me a look at the HiFive 1, so here it is, the first hands-on with the first Open Hardware microcontroller.

Continue reading “Hands On With The First Open Source Microcontroller”

HiFive1: RISC-V In An Arduino Form Factor

The RISC-V ISA has seen an uptick in popularity as of late — almost as if there’s a conference going on right now — thanks to the fact that this instruction set is big-O Open. This openness allows anyone to build their own software and hardware. Of course, getting your hands on a RISC-V chip has until now, been a bit difficult. You could always go over to opencores, grab some VHDL, and run a RISC-V chip on an FPGA. Last week, OnChip released the RISC-V Open-V in real, tangible silicon.

Choice is always a good thing, and now SiFive, a fabless semiconductor company, has released the HiFive1 as a crowdfunding campaign on CrowdSupply. It’s a RISC-V microcontroller, completely open source, and packaged in the ever so convenient Arduino form factor.

The heart of the HiFive1 is SiFive’s FE310 SoC, a 32-bit RISC-V core running at 320+ MHz. As far as peripherals go, the HiFive1 features 19 digital IO pins, one SPI controller, 9 PWM pins, an external 128Megabit Flash, and five volt IO. Performance-wise, the HiFive1 is significantly faster than the Intel Curie-powered Arduino 101, or the ARM Cortex M0+ powered Arduino Zero. According to the crowdfunding campaign, support for the Arduino IDE is included. A single HiFive1 is available for $59 USD.

Since this is an Open Source chip, you would expect everything about it to be available. SiFive has everything from the SDK to the RTL available on GitHub. This is an impressive development in the ecosystem of Open Hardware, and something we’re going to take a look at when these chips make it out into the world.