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Open Source Microprocessor

By wfaulk in News
Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 04:02:23 PM EST
Tags: Hardware (all tags)

The European Space Agency has developed its own implementation of the Sparc v8 processor for use in space exploration applications. Interestingly, they have also released the VHDL language specification of their implementation under the LGPL.

The Sparc v8 is defined by the IEEE-P1754 standard, and the Sparc organization has a certification group. This implementation has not been certified but tries to comply to the standard. Also, since it has been released as source, it could apparently be embedded within another microprocessor, a technique that is currently used with other processors, like the ARM, for a licensing fee. And since it's LGPLed, the developer of the new processor wouldn't have to release the source for the rest of their processor.

They also have a modified version that is fault-tolerant, apparently correcting for any bit-switches due to cosmic rays, which are much more common in space applications than here on Earth.

According to the above VHDL link, there have apparently been open-sourced processors before, but the Sparc v8, while not cutting-edge, is not totally antiquated, even for multi-purpose non-embedded computing.


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Open Source Microprocessor | 9 comments (9 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Interesting (3.00 / 4) (#1)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 02:40:32 PM EST

But who are Nancy, Erma and Iris?

nt: I Don't Think DesiredUserName read the article (none / 0) (#2)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 02:57:07 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Ahh at last (none / 0) (#4)
by titus-g on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 03:29:46 PM EST

No comments by DUN, none hidden, he wasn't the first to mod down, finally I checked the moderation, damn it gets complicated, funny how the things you are searching for are _always_ in the last place you look...

FWIW, I didn't read the article either, but I suspect you know something I don't so I balanced you, am I great or are you a what.

--"Essentially madness is like charity, it begins at home" --
[ Parent ]

"The Acronomia" and other useless tought (2.33 / 3) (#3)
by Pac on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 03:17:18 PM EST

Sparc: S(cable) P(rocessor) ARC(hitecture)
VHDL: V(ery High Speed Integrated Circuit) H(ardware) D(escription) L(anguage)

As for open-sourcing the processor, fine. I was having some trouble finding use for my extense but rather underused chip manufacturing facilities. Now I can produce LEONs for the masses. Good.

It is funny that a rare picture of Nancy, Erna and Iris should appear in such a humble page. Last time I saw them was in 1970, in Cafe Moscow, Toronto, at Andy's birthday.

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

counter point (3.50 / 2) (#5)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 04:20:18 PM EST

As for open-sourcing the processor, fine. I was having some trouble finding use for my extense but rather underused chip manufacturing facilities. Now I can produce LEONs for the masses. Good.

I detect a bit of sarcasm.

For individuals such as yourself, it does seem to be a bit preposterous to release the specs for a processor as open source. But for a government agency, it does make more than a little sense. Let's say that the European Space Agency needs either a custom processor or a processor that meets certain rigid specifications. They can design the processor from scratch and have it custom built and keep the specs in house or hope that an off-the-shelf chip from some manufacturer meets the bill. The second option leads to a possibility of lock-in from the chip vendor. The first option rules out other similiar agencies being able to benefit from the design.

Down the road NASA might be able to benefit from ESA's work. So might the air wing of the armed forces of many European Governments. Should the chip turn out any good, so might many different hardware manufacturers from all over the planet. There are a large number of possibilities where design sharing on this level might benefit the world at large and I commend the ESA for being forward looking in their decision to release their VHDL under the auspices of the Lesser Gnu Public License.

[ Parent ]
The word "useless" in the title (4.00 / 1) (#8)
by Pac on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 11:12:17 PM EST

Yes, yes, I know all reasons for publishing and open-sourcing hardware specs and standards, and completely agree with everything you say.

But, since your average K5 reader is as close to making his/her own processor as your average penguim is to making its own operating system, I guessed some fun would be harmless.

I also thought the use of "useless" right in the title would prevent time-wasting exchanges such as ours now. But then again your response may enlighten someone else that could be thinking that an open-sourced processor spec was useless... :))

Evolution doesn't take prisoners

[ Parent ]
However... (none / 0) (#6)
by Dogfood on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 05:59:38 PM EST

If you read on though, they say its synthesizable on an FPGA. FPGA's are cheap, we have about 30 of them lying around in the digital lab of the university I'm at. You can download the design to a generic, cheap FPGA, and have an instant microprocessor.

[ Parent ]
Why an Open Source processor is useful. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
by Tinaja on Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 08:19:54 PM EST

Agreed, I don't expect that we'll all run out and build our very own microprocessor. It does however provide an excellent opportunity to study a working processor. This represents a huge amount of intellectual property, enough to jump start a university research group and allow them to analyze the hows and whys of the design choices. This in turn can only mean advances in technology.

People other than us wireheads could benefit, compiler writers, optimization gurus, algorithm hackers etc.

Is there an FPGA big enough for this? (none / 0) (#9)
by raygundan on Fri Feb 02, 2001 at 09:15:42 AM EST

Does anyone know if there is an FPGA large enough to accomodate this processor design? Additionally, does anyone know of any reason why we couldn't convert the VHDL into layout for an FPGA? (At a lower speed, of course, but hey... an open source processor would be fun!)

And finally, is there a motherboard we could fit the FPGA too? An adaptor might be necessary.

This is starting to sound like a giant pain. Maybe somebody out there works at a university with a small fab that could make these on the side?

Open Source Microprocessor | 9 comments (9 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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