By Nitin Dahad, EETimes (February 3, 2021)
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Linux kernel’s release. Serving as the basis of the open source software movement, the open source code spawned hundreds of projects using free, public Linux distributions. The result has been a lengthy list of robust, stable and flexible products.
Given its success, can the same approach be applied to enabling the adoption of open source hardware? Can an instruction set architecture (ISA) like RISC-V create the basis for the proliferation of open source hardware in the same way that the Linux kernel served as the foundation for open source software?
The answer is both yes and no.
The architecture of the moment, RISC-V is open and available as a standard, allowing freedom, flexibility and speed in building products around it. But the flip side is that hardware is more complex, and with multiple layers in the stack, this means it’s not as simple as shipping a software package.
We polled stakeholders in the RISC-V hardware ecosystem — OpenHW Group, RISC-V International, NXP Semiconductors and Andes Technology. We examine the similarities to open source software, barriers to adoption of open source hardware and the significance of a support community and ecosystem.
Finally, we consider: What does open source hardware mean for commercial chip makers?