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How The Open Source Movement In Hardware Is Catching Up With Software

How The Open Source Movement In Hardware Is Catching Up With Software


With the exponential growth of open-source software projects by the private sector, open-source hardware has also gained significant traction in the developer community. Open-sourcing projects, both hardware and software, make the project technically advanced and cost-effective.



Basically, open-source hardware can be defined as the physical objects under certain licencing which can be studied, created, modified as well as distributed by the developers. It helps alleviate the issue of proprietary device drivers for the free and open-source software community.

In March this year, the Linux Foundation announced the formation of the Common Hardware for Interfaces, Processors and Systems (CHIPS) Alliance in order to harness the power of open-source collaboration to accelerate the development of hardware. CHIPS alliance is one such consortium which is joining hands with the tech companies in order to promote the advancement of common, open hardware for interfaces, processors and systems. 

The key motive behind this association is to develop high quality, open-source hardware designs which are relevant to the silicon devices as well as FPGAs. Some of the top developers contributing to the CHIPS Alliance as initial members are mentioned below

  • Google: Google contributed the Universal Verification Methodology (UVM)-Based Stream Generator Environment for RISC-V Cores which will provide configurable, highly stressful instruction sequences that can verify architectural and micro-architectural corner-cases of designs. 
  • Western Digital: Western Digital contributed their high performance, 9-stage, dual-issue, 32-bit SweRV Core, together with a test bench, and high-performance SweRV instruction set simulator. The company has also contributed specification and early implementations of the OmniXtend cache coherence protocol. 
  • Antmicro: Antmicro is focussed on introducing open-source into strategic areas of industry, especially edge AI. The company is contributing in order to open-source RTL designs for silicon and FPGAs. 

In March 2019, tech leaders such as Alibaba, Cisco, Dell EMC, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Huawei, Intel Corporation and Microsoft joined hands to form an open industry standard group known as Compute Express Link (CXL) consortium to develop technical specifications which facilitates breakthrough performance for emerging usage models while supporting an open ecosystem for data center accelerators and other high-speed enhancements.

Other Companies Contributing To Open Source Hardware

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  • Alibaba: Alibaba had also joined hands with the Linux Foundation’s CHIPS alliance to develop efficient and flexible chip designs. Recently, the Chinese tech giant released and open-sourced its first RISC-V chip known as Xuantie 910 which can be integrated into CPU and System-on-Chip (SoC) design for IoT and 5Gs. 
  • IBM: A few days ago IBM announced that the company is open-sourcing POWER Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) which will help the developers to understand how hardware and software work together on POWER. With the help of POWER, the developers will be able to build new and innovative hardware which will process data-intensive workloads and have the ability to create new software applications for AI and hybrid cloud. Earlier in 2013, IBM collaborated and co-founded OpenPOWER in order to assist data centres in rethinking the approach to technology.  

Outlook

Now that the organisations have discovered the advantages and power of open-sourcing, it will help them in accelerating market strategies, creating and deploying efficient and flexible CPUs, SoCs, and peripherals for use in mobile, computing, consumer electronics, and IoT applications. 

Open-sourcing is playing a major role in the advancements of technology and the future brings more such open-source projects to the developer’s community. However, open-source hardware is costlier than open-source software. Several semiconductor manufacturers are joining hands with the tech players in order to create cost-effective and efficient chipset.


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