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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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Another US president, time for another big Intel factory promise by another CEO

Let's not get too excited about this right away

Comment Intel puts on a show for its biggest manufacturing announcements, with episodes every few years using a rotating cast of CEOs and US presidents.

Intel boss Pat Gelsinger and President Joe Biden were the latest to join the series, on Friday jointly announcing the chip maker's investment of $20bn in plants near Columbus, Ohio. The fabs could be operational by 2025 and make chips down to 2nm and beyond.

"This is our first major site announcement in 40 years," Gelsinger said on on-stage later in the day with Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R).

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European silicon output shrinking, metal smelters closing as electricity prices quadruple, trade body warns

Probably something to tackle before those chip fabs are built, eh?

Soaring electricity prices have derailed manufacturing involving silicon and non-ferrous metals in Europe, politicians were warned this week.

Eurometaux, a European metals association, urged action [PDF] from the EU, fearing the region could experience spikes in electricity prices for the next decade if nothing is done to control the situation.

The power crisis has already curtailed production and shut down facilities in silicon and metals industries across EU nations. "After a quadrupling of electricity prices, over half of the EU’s aluminium and zinc smelters are today operating at reduced capacity or have temporarily closed, together with a significant reduction in silicon output," Eurometaux said.

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Tougher rules on targeted ads, deepfakes, craft web design, and more? Euro lawmakers give a thumbs up

'This is strongly limiting the scope of maneuver by Big Tech' expert tells El Reg

Analysis The European Parliament has adopted a set of amendments to the Digital Services Act (DSA) that makes the pending legislation even more protective of personal privacy and requires businesses to give greater consideration to advertising technology, respecting user choice, and web design.

The DSA, advanced by the European Commission in late 2020, aims to police online services and platforms by creating "a safer digital space where the fundamental rights of users are protected and to establish a level playing field for businesses." It's a set of rules for limiting illegal content and misinformation online and for making digital advertising more accountable and transparent.

It complements the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which focuses on regulating large technology "gatekeepers" like Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta (Facebook), and Microsoft.

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Meta trains data2vec neural network to understand speech, images, text so it can 'understand the world'

Whatever it takes, Mark

Researchers at Facebook parent's Meta have trained a single AI model capable of processing speech, images, and text in the hope that these so-called multi-modal systems will power the company’s augmented reality and metaverse products.

The model, known as data2vec, can perform different tasks. Given an audio snippet, it can recognize speech. If it’s fed an image, it can classify objects. And when faced with text, it can check the grammar or analyse the writing’s tone and emotions.

AI algorithms are typically trained on one type of data, though data2vec is trained on three different modalities. It still, however, processes each form, whether its speech, images, and text, separately.

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Apple preps fix for Safari's web-history-leaking IndexedDB privacy bug

Disclosure of WebKit flaw appears to have prodded iBiz to undertake repairs

Apple is preparing to repair a bug in its WebKit browser engine that has been leaking data from its Safari 15 browser at least since the problem was reported last November.

Updates made available on Thursday to Apple developers – iOS 15.3 RC and macOS 12.2 RC – reportedly fix the flaw, an improper implementation of IndexedDB API that allows websites to track users and potentially identify them.

The bug affects Apple's Safari 15 browser on macOS, and all browsers on iOS and iPadOS 15 – because Apple requires all browsers on iOS to be based upon its WebKit engine, instead of alternatives like Chromium's Blink or Mozilla's Gecko.

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Nvidia pushes crowd-pleasing container support into AI Enterprise suite

As long as you're running on VMware

Nvidia has rolled out the latest version of its AI Enterprise suite for GPU-accelerated workloads, adding integration for VMware's vSphere with Tanzu to enable organisations to run workloads in both containers and inside virtual machines.

Available now, Nvidia AI Enterprise 1.1 is an updated release of the suite that GPUzilla delivered last year in collaboration with VMware. It is essentially a collection of enterprise-grade AI tools and frameworks certified and supported by Nvidia to help organisations develop and operate a range of AI applications.

That's so long as those organisations are running VMware, of course, which a great many enterprises still use in order to manage virtual machines across their environment, but many also do not.

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Wolfing down ebooks during lockdown? You might want to check out Calibre, the Swiss Army ebook tool

When audiobooks just take too darn long...

Friday FOSS Fest In this week's edition of our column on free and open-source software, El Reg takes a look at Calibre, which converts almost any file type into almost any other file type, so you can read whatever you want, wherever you want, no matter what format it's in.

It's free and runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.

There's more to ebooks than the Kindle, of course, with devices such as the Kobo, Nook, and Onyx Boox. The author's own Sony Reader still worked fine when I gave it to a friend a year ago.

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Dog forgets all about risk of drowning in a marsh as soon as drone dangles a sausage

It's not the wurst idea in the world

Man's best friend, though far from the dumbest animal, isn't that smart either. And if there's one sure-fire way to get a dog moving, it's the promise of a snack.

In another fine example of drones being used as a force for good, this week a dog was rescued from mudflats in Hampshire on the south coast of England because it realised that chasing a sausage dangling from a UAV would be a preferable outcome to drowning as the tide rose.

Or rather the tantalising treat overrode any instinct the pet had to avoid the incoming water.

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Almost there: James Webb Space Telescope frees its mirrors and prepares for insertion

Freed of launch restraints, mirror segments can waggle at will

NASA scientists have deployed mirrors on the James Webb Space Telescope ahead of a critical thruster firing on Monday.

With less than 50,000km to go until the spacecraft reaches its L2 orbit, the segments that make up the primary mirror of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are ready for alignment. The team carefully moved all 132 actuators lurking on the back of the primary mirror segments and secondary mirror, driving the former 12.5mm away from the telescope structure.

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Arm rages against the insecure chip machine with new Morello architecture

Prototypes now available for testing

Arm has made available for testing prototypes of its Morello architecture, aimed at bringing features into the design of CPUs that provide greater robustness and make them resistant to certain attack vectors. If it performs as expected, it will likely become a fundamental part of future processor designs.

The Morello programme involves Arm collaborating with the University of Cambridge and others in tech to develop a processor architecture that is intended to be fundamentally more secure. Morello prototype boards are now being released for testing by developers and security specialists, based on a prototype system-on-chip (SoC) that Arm has built.

Arm said that the limited-edition evaluation boards are based on the Morello prototype architecture embedded into an Armv8.2-A processor. This is an adaptation of the architecture in the Arm Neoverse N1 design aimed at data centre workloads.

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Multi-level marketing corporation that sells weightloss products sues ex-exec over 'fraudulent' Dell deal

Alleges he had an off-the-books agreement with reseller

MLM firm Herbalife, which sells diet-linked products but styles itself as a "nutrition company", has accused one of its former execs of cutting a "fraudulent" $20m deal with a Dell reseller.

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