Open source software has been around for years, and for obvious reasons — all it takes is a PC to churn out code. And developers can make anything — operating systems, networking systems, administration systems, databases.
We even have open source hardware, if you think of the open architecture that the PC is based on.
Now comes open source CPU chips for powering PCs and servers.
According to GigaOM, the idea is being pushed by researchers at the University of California at Berkeley with what is called the RISC-V instruction set architecture.
One of the researchers leading the charge behind RISC-V is David Patterson, the project’s creator and also the creator of the original RISC instruction set in the 1980s and used in CPUs from ARM, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and others.
The problem with these and other chips from established manufacturers is that their instruction set architecture (ISA) is closed. An open ISA could push innovation in cloud computing and the Internet of Things, proponents argue, by allowing developers to experiment with the instruction set, experiment with chip designs and share that work openly without fearing a violation of license terms.
There are other open source instruction, including OpenRISC, SPARC V8, IBM’s OpenPower and the MIPS-based Prpl that are still small offerings.
“Patterson says RISC-V is more capable in many ways and more efficient (even against some proprietary designs), and is ideal for this moment in time because it has a small code base and other features that make it more suitable for the system-on-a-chip designs that dominate today’s computing world, largely thanks to ARM,” the report says. “As the demands of connected devices evolve, kits such as Raspberry Pi mature and scale-out cloud architectures grow, a thriving RISC-V community should be able to design chips that evolve along with them.”