Brussels / 31 January & 1 February 2015



The path to an open-source SoC

The lowRISC project was established in the summer of 2014 with the aim of producing a complete open-source System-on-Chip in volume, with low-cost development boards. Alex Bradbury, one of the co-founders of the project will discuss the progress to date and the path to the first test chip. lowRISC implements the open RISC-V instruction set architecture and is exploring ideas on improving security via tagged memory and increasing flexibility through the addition of RISC-V 'Minion' cores to implement soft peripherals. This talk will discuss the potential benefits of a fully open-source hardware ecosystem, the challenges of getting to first silicon, and how the open source community at large can help.

There has been an explosion in interest in low-cost hardware platforms in recent years with many (e.g. Arduino and BeagleBone Black) having their schematics and PCB layout released under an open hardware license. These platforms are supported by open-source toolchains, applications, and libraries yet the processor this software targets remains closed. We believe there is an opportunity for open source processor and SoC designs to influence industry in a way similar to the successes we've seen in open source software - to help increase the pace of change of development, more easily move ideas from research to real world usage, and to lower the barrier of entry to the market.

Two features we are focusing on for our first test chip are tagged memory and 'minion' cores. Tagged memory has applications in security, to prevent control-flow hijacking attacks or for debug or performance monitoring. The 'minions' we propose are small cores which also implement the RISC-V instruction set, used for implementation of I/O protocols in software, secure isolated execution, or many other potential uses. This talk will describe the current status of the project, our planned path to production silicon, and how the wider open source community can get involved.


Photo of Alex Bradbury Alex Bradbury