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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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Space tourists splash down in Atlantic Ocean after three days in orbit

Some sightseeing, music, gambling, chatting to folks back home – just like a regular roadtrip

The space tourist crew who spent three days orbiting Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule has returned to our planet in one piece.

The gang, dubbed Inspiration4, splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida coast just after 1900 EST (2300 UTC) on Saturday. They were checked over by doctors and flown by helicopter to land.

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Apple, Google yank opposition voting strategy app from Russian software stores

Oh, sorry, we thought you wanted us to obey the law?! – Silicon Valley

A tactical-voting app built by allies of Vladimir Putin’s jailed political opponent Alexei Navalny is now unavailable in Russian Apple and Google app stores following threats of fines from the Kremlin.

According to state-owned news agency TASS, Russian lawmaker Andrei Klimov told reporters on Thursday that the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office sent statutory notices to Google and Apple ordering a takedown of the Navalny app on the grounds it was collecting personal data of Russian citizens and sought to interfere in the nation's elections. Refusal to do so would result in penalties.

“The app particularly deliberately and illegally spreads election campaign materials in the interests of some candidates vying for positions in elective agencies or against the interests of such," Klimov said.

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Google extends right-to-be-forgotten to app permissions on older Android devices

Software unused after a few months will lose access to sensitive features unless exempted

In December, Google plans to have app runtime permissions expire on older versions of Android for apps that haven't been opened for several months, extending the availability of a privacy protection feature introduced in Android 11.

"In Android 11, we introduced the permission auto-reset feature," explained Google software engineers Peter Visontay and Bessie Jiang in a blog post on Friday. "This feature helps protect user privacy by automatically resetting an app’s runtime permissions – which are permissions that display a prompt to the user when requested – if the app isn’t used for a few months."

That behavior is the default in Android 11 and in Android 12, expected in a few weeks. Come December, it will become the default in older versions of Android that rely on Google Play services, specifically Android 6 (API level 23) through Android 10 (API level 29).

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Yes, of course there's now malware for Windows Subsystem for Linux

Once dismissed proof-of-concept attack on Microsoft OS through WSL detected in the wild

Linux binaries have been found trying to take over Windows systems in what appears to be the first publicly identified malware to utilize Microsoft's Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to install unwelcome payloads.

On Thursday, Black Lotus Labs, the threat research group at networking biz Lumen Technologies, said it had spotted several malicious Python files compiled in the Linux binary format ELF (Executable and Linkable Format) for Debian Linux.

"These files acted as loaders running a payload that was either embedded within the sample or retrieved from a remote server and was then injected into a running process using Windows API calls," Black Lotus Labs said in a blog post.

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Microsoft does and doesn't require VMs to meet hardware requirements for Windows 11

Either way, it's bad news for VirtualBox – it's stopped working

Microsoft emitted a fresh build of Windows 11 last night, and piled on the woe for some customers hoping that virtual machines might be their way out of the hardware compatibility hole.

Despite Microsoft's efforts to distract users by showing off its updates to the Photos app – now rolling out to users in the Windows Insider Dev Channel – the alarming warning that "this build includes a change that aligns the enforcement of the Windows 11 system requirements on Virtual Machines (VMs) to be the same as it is for physical PCs" was the main news for many testers.

Microsoft also said Hyper-V VMs of Windows 11 need to be Generation 2 VMs, and virtual machines running on virtualization and emulation products from other vendors, such as VMware and Oracle, "will continue to work as long as the hardware requirements are met."

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Microsoft doles out Office Long Term Servicing Channel for cloud refuseniks

Redmond doesn't do things by half – unless it's Long Term Support

Microsoft has grudgingly admitted that not everyone will want to ascend to its cloud with the Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) version of its Office cash cow.

Earlier this year, the Windows behemoth announced that it was axing the length of support. No longer would customers enjoy decade-long delight. Instead, support would last for just five years, in line with Windows.

The release of this perpetual version is for commercial and government customers. The consumer version, Office 2021, will turn up on 5 October and likely be drowned out by users realising their PCs won't run Microsoft's latest version of Windows because OEMs want the gravy train to keep rolling of more stringent hardware requirements aimed at improving the user experience.

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Sir Clive Sinclair: Personal computing pioneer missed out on being Britain's Steve Jobs

Lifelong cost focus was his namesake company's corporate downfall

Obituary Sir Clive Sinclair, the visionary pioneer of computing for the British masses and creator of the legendary ZX Spectrum, has died at the age of 81. His legacy is the British tech scene as we know it today.

Born in leafy Richmond, Surrey, at the height of the Battle of Britain in July 1940, he came to epitomise the early era of British computing through his company Sinclair Research Ltd and its iconic Spectrum product line.

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Punchy Biden-lookalike grandad goes viral for fighting boxing gadget

'If you don't get your timing right you get whacked round the back of the head' admits scrappy octogenarian

An 80-year-old Lancashire grandfather has gone viral on TikTok and Instagram in a video featuring him squaring off with a sparring aid for boxers.

The video (see here) of Bob "Bruiser" Smith of Bamber Bridge near Preston ducking and diving around the Sparbar sparring device has received over 90 million views across the two social media sites.

The pugilistic pensioner – who was a fighter in his youth but banned from the ring by his father at the age of 14 out of concern for his safety – is treating his unexpected global fame with refreshing indifference.

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Something phishy: Tech recruiters jabbed by fake COVID-19 Passport scam

Tells clients it is tackling the issue

An IT recruitment agency says a "phishing scam" is behind a fake email sent to its customers with details on how to apply for a "Coronavirus Digital Passport."

The email – sent to applicants and clients of Concept Resourcing, based in Dudley, England, on 14 September and seen by The Reg – claimed users could "Get your Digital Coronavirus Passports (HPS) today" and showed recipients a big juicy link where they could do so.

The link was not a genuine NHS website and appears to have been deleted shortly after.

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How long till some drunkard puts a foot through one of BT's 'iconic, digital smart city communication hubs'?

Phonebox upgrade dishes out internet and more in Kensington and Chelsea

BT was joined by local dignitaries including the Mayor of Kensington to cut the silk sash on its 21st-century phone box that gives people access to free Gigabit Wi-Fi, rapid mobile phone charging, and free calls if needed.

The BT Street Hub 2.0 unit is now up and running in Notting Hill Gate with others due to be unveiled in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea shortly.

The pods are also plastered with advertising, with BT trumpeting that it's giving small businesses the chance to snap up £7.5m of free street advertising space as part of its launch promo.

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Snowflake doubters voice reservations over data warehouse's attempt to break into financial services

On-prem systems hold advantages in terms of known costs, say insiders

Cloud-based data warehouse darling Snowflake has launched its latest venture into financial services, while Teradata, something of a stalwart in data warehousing for banks and insurers, is attempting to broaden its appeal with machine learning implementations.

Though the world has been focused on Snowflake's stratospheric rise – it went from $1.5bn value in 2018 to $120bn shortly after its IPO last year – it may struggle to make inroads into the lucrative financial services markets, according to insiders and industry experts.

The so-called cloud-native data warehouse biz launched what it calls the Financial Services Data Cloud this week, accompanied by the claim that 57 per cent of Fortune 500 firms in the sector are on its platform. It is described as an industry-tailored platform that brings together Snowflake technology with "partner-delivered solutions" and "industry-critical datasets."

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