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Open Source Hardware Risks

There's still much work to be done to enable an open source hardware ecosystem.

semiengineering.com, Jan. 08, 2020 – 

Open-source hardware is gaining attention on a variety of fronts, from chiplets and the underlying infrastructure to the ecosystems required to support open-source and hybrid open-source and proprietary designs.

Open-source development is hardly a new topic. It has proven to be a successful strategy in the Linux world, but far less so on the hardware side. That is beginning to change, fueled by a slowdown in Moore's Law, rising design costs, and a growing need for more specialized processing elements in heterogeneous designs. This also has raised a long list of issues, starting with basic definitions, that in the past were largely ignored because it was simpler to use off-the-shelf proprietary solutions than to work with open-source hardware.

"Open-source hardware is open-source silicon, but open-source hardware also could mean open schematic or PCB designs of the sort we see in OCP (Open Core Protocol)," said Dominic Rizzo, OpenTitan Lead for Google Cloud. "There are also open-source hardware specifications, but those are less of a sea change than the rise of open-source hardware design collateral. In one sense, the RISC-V ISA is novel in that it's an openly developed ISA specification, where the most popular ISAs are typically closed. There are a handful of other open ISAs, such as OpenPOWER or MIPS, but the implementations of all of these tend to be black boxes."

Rizzo noted that what is unusual with RISC-V is the way the open source community has rallied around it. "We are seeing an increasing number of credible open-source, white-box silicon designs like Ariane, Ibex and the OpenTitan SoC built on top of the RISC-V open ISA."

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