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Open-source hardware? You better believe it

Seriously – it's not a joke

A team of hardware developers in the UK and Italy have released the first derivative of Sun's T1 processor under the OpenSparc programme.

OpenSparc is an experiment at creating an open-source community around Sun's Sparc hardware architecture, in the hopes of getting similar benefits to those found in open-source software development communities. Sun released the T1 design in December 2005 under the GNU Public License.

Simply Risc has taken Sun up on its offer with the S1 Core, available for download from the Simply Risc site. The S1 also uses the GPL, can run Solaris Unix and Ubuntu Linux, and targets embedded devices such as PDAs and set-top boxes.

The S1 has a single core to the T1's eight cores. "One of the main purposes of Simply Risc was to keep the S1 Core environment as simple as possible to encourage developers," said Simply Risc spokesperson Fabrizio Fazzini in a statement. "Simply Risc plans to add new features to the S1 Core and test them extensively over the next months with the help of the community."

The S1 Core is compatible with the Wishbone bridge specification, allowing system-on-a-chip designers to combine it with other cores available from OpenCores.org, Simply Risc said.

Open-source hardware is still a relatively untested concept, and there's no guarantee OpenSparc will be able to shore up the Sparc architecture. In recent years Sparc has faced rising competition from the likes of IBM's Power, Intel's Itanium and particularly the rising tide of x86-based servers.

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