Electronic Design

Collaboration Creates Free Open-Source Hardware Library

Hardware developers are joining forces to create a free open-source hardware design library. Similar to how Linux developers and other open-source programmers share open-source software designs, the members of a Web-based organization named OpenCores hope to eliminate redundant design work and reduce development costs through intellectual-property (IP) sharing.

This open-source hardware library will consist of design elements for processors, memory controllers, peripherals, motherboards, and other components. Emerging semiconductor and device manufacturers will be able to use this library to gain useful design information and license designs for free. Also, the selection of effective open-source hardware may help to speed the development of computing devices, such as set-top boxes and network switches.

The creation of an open-source hardware library poses more complications than the development of an open-source software library. While open-source designs will be free for licensing within the library, they still need to be incorporated into final device designs. To ease these design concerns, OpenCores is seeking agreements with companies such as Flextronics, which provides chip manufacturing, engineering, and design services.

Currently, the OpenCores community is collaborating to develop the next OpenRISC processor. Based on a reduced-instruction-set processor core, this device can be used in Web appliances, factory machines, and other Internet-connected devices. The RISC processor core is currently available as an open-source design. Working over the Internet, members of OpenCores are planning to integrate a memory controller and a USB controller with the OpenRISC chip. The group expects to design this processor with new system-on-a-chip capabilities.

Other design projects under way at OpenCores include memory controllers, DSP chips, and motherboards. The group's Web site is described as "a repository of open source, free IP synthesizable blocks and supplemental prototype boards." According to the outline of the organization's objectives, one initial goal is to design and manufacture a prototype of a computer system in the form of a PCI card that will run GNU/Linux.

For more information on OpenCores' open-source hardware initiative, visit www.opencores.org.

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