The NLNet Foundation is a non-profit supporting privacy, security, and the “open internet”. Now the group has approved funding for the hybrid Libre RISC-V CPU/VPU/GPU, which will “pay for full-time engineering work to be carried out over the next year, and to pay for bounty-style tasks.”
Long-time Slashdot reader lkcl explains why that’s significant:High security software is irrelevant if the hardware is fundamentally compromised, for example with the Intel spying backdoor co-processor known as the Management Engine. The Libre RISCV SoC was begun as a way for users to regain trust and ownership of the hardware that they legitimately purchase.
This processor will be the first of its kind, as the first commercial SoC designed to give users the hardware and software source code of the 3D GPU, Video Decoder, main processor, boot process and the OS.
Shockingly, in the year 2019, whilst there are dozens of SoCs with full source code that are missing either a VPU or a GPU (such as the TI OMAP Series and Xilinx ZYNQ7000s), there does not exist a single commercial embedded SoC which has full source code for the bootloader, CPU, VPU and GPU. The iMX6 for example has etnaviv support for its GPU however the VPU is proprietary, and all of Rockchip and Allwinner’s offerings use either MALI or PowerVR yet their VPUs have full source (reverse engineered in the case of Allwinner).
This processor, which will be quad core dual issue 800mhz RV64GC and capable of running full GNU/Linux SMP OSes, with 720p video playback and embedded level 25fps 3D performance in around 2.5 watts at 28nm, is designed to address that imbalance. Links and details on the Libre RISC-V SoCwiki.
The real question is: why is this project the only one of its kind, and why has no well funded existing Fabless Semiconductor Company tried something like this before? The benefits to businesses of having full source code are already well-known.