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If you wanna make your own open-source chip, just Google it. Literally. Web giant says it'll fab them for free

Plus: IBM emits BlueGene/Q CPU blueprints – and 'fastest' open-source RISC-V core emerges


If you're doodling your own computer chip yet wondering if you'll ever see it physically manufactured, Google is offering to fabricate it for you for free.

There are a few caveats.

One is that the chip design must be public and open-source: you'll submit your work by sending in a URL to the relevant Git repo. The other is that the process node will be 130nm, which was cutting edge circa 2001. Another is that while Google has promised to fab any open-source project – whether it's an academic or amateur effort, or led by a commercial outfit – if more than 40 groups step forward for free gear, it'll start selecting which ones to accept into the program. Also, you'll each get about 100 components off the production line. And your die area is 10mm2.

But hey, it's free – and seeing as the step from writing and verifying a chip in a hardware language and simulator to actually getting it fabbed is quite large and daunting for most people, the offer isn't bad. It typically costs thousands of dollars to prototype chips using even that modest process node.

More details are here, and you can watch the video below to get it all direct from the person spearheading the program, veteran Google software engineer Tim Ansell.

As for who will actually make the chips, Google, and its partner efabless, chose SkyWater Technology Foundry, which was spun out of Cypress Semiconductor. A production run is scheduled for November this year, and another in early 2021, and more after.

The goal is to develop an entirely open-source semiconductor manufacturing workflow. To help achieve this, Google and Skywater released an open-source PDK, or process development kit, which is described as a grab bag of design rules, logic and analog models and cells, specifications, and other data to turn your RTL files into actual working patterns of semiconductors, metals, and other chemicals on tiny squares of plastic-packaged silicon.

Normally, PDKs from foundries involve a lot of money; this one is free – the first-ever open source one, apparently – though it is a work-in-progress experiment.

And if you're worried about Google using this as a means to snaffle your intellectual property, don't forget: it's only for public projects that are open-source all the way down to the silicon layout. So if you qualify, you've already handed over your work to the world anyway.

PS: If anyone wants to collaborate on designing an open-source chip and pitch it at Google-Skywater, let us know. We've been pondering drawing up a basic AI math chip as a Special Project.

Berkeley SonicBOOM 'fastest' open-source RISC-V

A team at University of California, Berkeley in the US say they have produced the world's fastest open-source RISC-V CPU by IPC – that's instructions per clock cycle.

This third-generation design is dubbed SonicBOOM; the BOOM stands for Berkeley Out of Order Machine because, well, it is. It's a superscalar out-of-order 64-bit RISC-V (RV64GC) core with 32KB of L1 instruction cache and 32KB of L1 data cache, and 512KB of L2 cache.

Its performance is said to reach 3.93 DMIPS/MHz, or 6.2 CoreMark/MHz, putting on a par with early Intel Core Duo parts circa 2006. That's not bad for a work-in-progress, completely free and open-source academic project that you can leaf through. If you want to see what non-trivial branch prediction, cache management, instruction decoding and scheduling, and out-of-order execution look like under the hood, it's all there for you.

Well, provided any contract you're under allows you to look at this sort of stuff in open-source projects.

SonicBOOM is synthesizable and parameterizable, written in the hardware design language Chisel, and boots Linux. You can find the royalty-free code for it here, and a paper describing its design here [PDF]. An 18-minute video outlining its operation and features is here.

You can spin it up in a suitable FPGA, or turn it into a proper system-on-chip design with math accelerators and IO and other stuff bolted on via Berkeley's Chipyard tooling.

IBM opens up supercomputer processor core

IBM has released the VHDL source code for its A2I POWER processor core, used in its BlueGene/Q supercomputers from the early 2010s, along with materials needed to spin it up in an FPGA.

Like with the SonicBOOM, it's an opportunity to peek under the hood and see what a production-grade processor looks like, if you can stomach reams of VHDL. The A2I was developed as a general-purpose 45nm CPU for supercomputers and, prior to that, as an edge-of-network processor core operating at wire speed. It supports big- and little-endian modes.

The A2I is a four-way SMT, two-way issue CPU design that executes 64-bit POWER v2.06 Book III-E code in-order with dynamic branch prediction. It has 16KB of L1 data and 16KB of L1 instruction cache. Typically, multiple cores were packaged per processor chip; 18 for the BlueGene/Q clocked at 1.6GHz, for instance.

Our sister site The Next Platform has more history and analysis here, and notes that Big Blue has opened up the central A2I core not the full processor – so things like the floating-point math engines that made it supercomputer-grade appear to be missing.

The A2I blueprints are available under a Creative Commons license that lets you use and adapt the core design as you wish provided you credit Big Blue. You can use it in a physical chip at no cost if you speak to the OpenPOWER Foundation about a license. ®

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How hot is it right now? 'Water park catching fire and burning down' hot

It's a Jersey thing, you wouldn't understand

A New Jersey water park has had to modify its summer reopening plans after one of its star attractions caught fire and partially burned down.

The 'High Anxiety' waterslide lived up to its name when it was engulfed in flames on Tuesday night, as you can see below.

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Mayflower, the AI ship sent to sail from the UK to the US with no humans, made it three days before breaking down

Plus: Canon has cameras that only let employees into meeting rooms if they smile, and more

In brief The Mayflower Autonomous Ship (MAS), which set sail this week from the UK to the US, failed just three days into its journey. It appears a mechanical fault occurred, something the Mayflower's AI can't fix itself.

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Spyware, trade-secret theft, and $30m in damages: How two online support partners spectacularly fell out

Chat-bot maker LivePerson wins lawsuit against call-center outfit [24]7.ai

On Thursday, a jury in a federal court in Oakland, California, found call center biz [24]7.ai – as in, 24/7 – guilty of unfair competition and stealing trade secrets from chatbot maker LivePerson, awarding the company more than $30m in damages.

The case was filed in 2014. In its complaint [PDF], LivePerson described how its partnership with 24/7 went bad.

LivePerson provides online engagement technology, which takes the form of chatbots that corporate clients add to their websites to field questions, gather interaction data, and reduce customer support costs.

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Amazon notices Apple, Google cutting app store commission rates, follows suit

Keeps small-time devs on the reservation with AWS credits, too

Amazon this week said it would reduce its Appstore commission rate for less successful developers, following recent similar moves by Apple and Google, and is sweetening its deal by offering AWS credits to support apps' backend services.

"Starting in Q4, for developers that earned less than $1m in revenue in the previous calendar year, we are increasing developer revenue share and adding AWS credit options," said Palanidaran Chidambaram, director of the Amazon Appstore, in a blog post. "This brings total program benefits up to an equivalent of 90 percent of revenue."

Amazon will allow developers to retain 80 per cent of app revenue, keeping 20 per cent for itself. The company suggests those using AWS credits will add another 10 per cent to the developer take. It's calling its largesse the Amazon Appstore Small Business Accelerator Program.

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FCC pushes forward on rules to block the certification of new telecoms gear from ZTE and Huawei

Crackdown on loopholes that allow 'high-risk' vendors to have equipment approved for use in the US

The US Federal Communications Commission is pressing forward with a proposal that would ban telecommunications providers [PDF] from using equipment made by manufacturers deemed to present a risk to national security.

The agency has opened a request for comments on rules that would revoke the certification of any equipment listed by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. This probe has also sought to gauge the temperature for withdrawing certification for "high-risk" equipment already deployed by carriers.

Both Huawei and ZTE were listed in the notification, as well as smaller entities that have earned the ire of US government. These include the Hytera Communications Corporation, which produces radio systems for cellular and industrial users, as well as video surveillance vendors Dahua and Hikvision.

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New York congressman puts forward federal right-to-repair bill

Fair Repair Act targets all varieties of electronic devices

A New York congressman has introduced a federal right-to-repair bill, just a week after the state's Senate passed a bill addressing the same issue. That state bill has failed to progress, we note.

The proposed federal-level legislation, though, would compel original equipment manufacturers to provide consumers and independent businesses access to the tools, schematics, and parts required to fix broken devices.

Dubbed the Fair Repair Act, and proposed by House Rep Joe Morelle (D-NY), the bill would provide an equal basis for all consumers and independent repair shops. Although great strides have been made pushing similar legislation on the state level, with bills introduced or passed in 27 states this year alone, progress has not been evenly divided.

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Petition instructs Jeff Bezos to buy, eat world's most famous painting

Booze-fuelled Change.org campaign implores Amazon founder to 'GOBBLE DA LISA!'

Ultra-billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has already been the subject of a petition asking him not to return to Earth after he blasts off in his New Shepard rocket on July 20, but even if he is allowed back, Bezos is now facing an even more difficult prospect.

The aerodynamically-pated arch-villain archetype and his vast fortune are increasingly becoming subjects of fascination for the denizens of campaign website Change.org, with multiple petitions currently running, mostly trying to persuade him to divert some of his almost-limitless resources toward good causes.

However, some users are suggesting more novel and entertaining uses for his immense wealth. Change.org user Kane Powell has chosen to use the platform to attempt to persuade Bezos to buy and eat the Mona Lisa, the supposedly priceless Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece housed in the Louvre in Paris.

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Microsoft: Try to break our first preview of 64-bit Visual Studio – go on, we dare you

Plus: Updates to .NET 6, ASP.NET Core, and .NET MAUI

Microsoft has unveiled a slew of developer tools, including a preview of the 64-bit Visual Studio 2022, ahead of that developer event set for 24 June.

Preview 1 of Visual Studio 2022 comes direct from the department of never-say-never following version after version of the toolset remaining staunchly 32-bit, even as the hardware world changed around it.

The move to 64-bit was announced earlier this year and is an ambitious one considering the ecosystem and sheer size of the Visual Studio codebase.

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Racist malware blocks The Pirate Bay by tampering with victims' Windows hosts file

Hello, 2002 called with one of the oldest low-tech tricks in the book

Malware laced with racial epithets tries to block Windows-based victims from visiting file-sharing sites associated with copyright infringement, according to new Sophos research.

The malicious software amounts to a "goofy process to block people from going to the Pirate Bay," according to Sophos researcher Andrew Brandt, who stumbled across the malware after a colleague mentioned it in passing.

Rather than opening a backdoor for a ransomware gang to exploit or dropping a malicious payload, however, this malware merely sinkholes a bunch of Pirate Bay domain names by adding them to the Windows hosts file and pointing them at 127.0.0.1 – meaning they'll be inaccessible from the victim's machine.

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UK gets glowing salute from Bezos-backed General Fusion: Nuclear energy company to build plant in Oxfordshire

Biz will develop Magnetized Target Fusion technology at the site

General Fusion – the Canadian-based atomic outfit backed by Jeff Bezos and a battalion of other major investors – is to build a test facility in Oxfordshire to showcase its power-generating technology.

Following a COVID-friendly handshake, the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) has given General Fusion the green light to proceed with its Fusion Demonstration Plant (FDP) at UKAEA's Centre for Fusion Energy Campus in Culham.

The campus – a Royal Navy airbase until it was handed to the UKAEA in 1960 – is home to a cluster of fusion development technologies.

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UK financial watchdog dithers over £680k refund from Google (in ad credits, mind you) for running anti-fraud ads

MPs give FCA a telling-off for wasting taxpayer money

The UK's financial regulator is refusing to say whether it will accept an offer by Google to pay back more than £600,000 spent on online ads warning people about the dangers of money scams.

News that Google made the offer came to light earlier this week during oral evidence [PDF] to the Treasury Committee hearing on economic crime. Among those giving evidence was Mark Steward, director of enforcement and market insight at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

He was quizzed by Rushinara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, who wanted to know about the £600,000 the FCA is paying Google to run ads warning about online financial scams.

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