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Google wants an open source silicon community for chip design

As evidenced by Android and Chromium, Google has long been committed to open source software. The company now wants to foster a similar community for hardware and chip design, particularly open source silicon.

Noting the current success of open source software, Google thinks the “new domain of open source silicon” could be “similarly benefit all participants.” The company touts how creating a “common, open baseline will provide the benefit of implementation choice while still guaranteeing software compatibility and a set of common interfaces.”

It could additionally encourage innovation, while the open nature ensures design transparency and security. However, there are several challenges that need to be worked through:

To take full advantage of open silicon we will need new design methodologies, new governance models, and increased collaborations between industry, academia, and not for profits.

The Google Open Source blog today detailed two open hardware efforts focussed on open silicon that the company is “actively engaged in helping.” This includes providing funding, strategic, and legal support for lowRISC and becoming the founding member of the Linux Foundation’s CHIPS Alliance project

lowRISC is a leader in open silicon community outreach, technical documentation, and advancing the goal of a truly open source system on a chip. We have long supported lowRISC’s mission of transparently implemented silicon and robust engagement of the open source silicon community, providing funding, advice, and recognizing their open source community leadership by selecting them as a Google Summer of Code mentoring organization.

CHIPS Alliance features an industry-driven, collaborative model to release high-quality silicon IP and supporting technical collateral. Most recently, in collaboration with CHIPS Alliance, we released a Universal Verification Methodology (UVM) instruction stream generator to aid in the verification of RISC-V cores. We believe such open sourcing of verification tools will prove critical to the long-term success of the open source silicon community.

Google is already a chipmaker with the Titan line of security chips for data centers and Pixel devices. As Apple and other companies have proven, it would be advantageous for Made by Google to own the entire hardware stack and not be dependent on other companies.

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: