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2016 was a abundant year for Accessible Hardware. The Accessible Source Accouterments Association appear their acceptance program, and backward in the year, a few silicon wizards met in Mountain View to appearance off the latest affairs in the RISC-V apprenticeship set architecture.



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The RISC-V ISA is absolutely clashing any added computer architecture. About every added dent you’ll acquisition out there, from the 8051s in anchored controllers, 6502s begin in millions of toys, to AVR, PIC, and whatever Intel is animate on are closed-source designs. You cannot abstraction these chips, you cannot accomplish these chips, and if you appetite to use one of these chips, your account of suppliers is abased on who has a licensing acceding with who.

We’ve apparent a lot of RISC-V being in contempo months, from OnChip’s Open-V, and now the HiFive 1 from SiFive. The association at SiFive offered to accord me a attending at the HiFive 1, so actuality it is, the aboriginal hands-on with the aboriginal Accessible Accouterments microcontroller.



Before I dig into this, I charge altercate the artlessness of the HiFive 1, and RISC-V in general. Chargeless Software and Accessible Accouterments is a religion, and it’s decidedly added difficult to aftermath Accessible Accouterments than Chargeless Software. No amount how acceptable or how Accessible the architectonics is, the assembly of the aboriginal Accessible Source microcontroller will accomplish far too abounding comments from bodies who use the words ‘moral imperative’ while citation commonsensical examples of why Accessible and Libre is good. You should avoid these comments, but not just because these bodies accept abandoned apprehend the aback awning of the Cliff’s Notes for Philosophy For Dummies.

The bigger affairs point for RISC-V chips is that there are no licensing fees, and this microcontroller is Accessible Source. This is huge — your AVRs, PICs, ARMs, and every added microcontroller on the planet is bankrupt hardware. You can’t abstraction the silicon. If we’re anytime activity to get a absolutely Accessible Source computer, it has to alpha somewhere, and actuality it is.



With that said, this is an Arduino-compatible board with an FTDI dent accouterment the USB to consecutive conversion. If we had a facepalm emoji, we’d use it here. An FTDI dent is not Accessible Source, and they accept advised drivers to breach chips that aren’t theirs. The architectonics files for the HiFive 1 were fabricated with Altium, a proprietary and non-Free software.

Will Stallman anytime say the HiFive 1 is Chargeless as in speech? Absolutely not. Instead, the HiFive 1 is an incrementally added Chargeless microcontroller compared to a PIC, ARM, or AVR. There will be bodies who will altercate – over the Internet, application late-model Intel processors with Management Engines — this is bereft to be alleged Chargeless and Accessible Source. To them, I will artlessly articulation to the Nirvana fallacy and ask them to point me to a microcontroller that is more Free and Accessible Source. Let’s not cut bottomward the abstraction of an Accessible Source microcontroller because it’s not absolute on the aboriginal release.

So, what’s in the HiFive 1? The blueprint area is simple enough, the datasheet is complete enough,  although there are some caveats:

Basically, the HiFive 1 is the SiFive FE310 microcontroller packaged in an Arduino Uno anatomy factor. The pin agreement is aloof as brainless as it’s consistently been, and there is abutment for a few Adafruit bouncer sitting about in the SDK.

There are no analog pins, but there are two added PWM pins compared to the accepted Arduino chip. The Arduino Uno and Leonardo accept 32 kilobytes of Flash, while the HiFive 1 has sixteen Megabytes of Flash on an alien SOIC chip.

The HiFive 1 supports 3.3 and 5V I/O, acknowledgment to three voltage akin translators. The abutment for 5V argumentation is huge in my assessment — about every dev lath architect has already accounting off 5V I/O as a victim of abstruse progress. The HiFive doesn’t, alike admitting the FE310 microcontroller is itself abandoned 3.3V tolerant. It should be acclaimed the accession of the voltage akin translators add at atomic a dollar or two to the BOM, and bifold that to the final amount of the board. It’s a nice touch, but there’s allowance for amount acerbic here.

Other than that, the abandoned added dent of agenda on the lath is the FTDI FT2232HL, a well-supported but best absolutely not Chargeless and Accessible Source USB to UART chip. This is a two-port dent that provides programming, serial, and alter access simultaneously.

The association at SiFive apprehend affidavit and SDKs are all-important to about-face a dent into a development board. To that end, they accept a bare-metal SDK and abutment for the Arduino IDE. The lath itself comes with a bootloader, and aback you bung the HiFive 1 into a USB you get the agnate of the Blink account from the Arduino. Yes, you too can accept Accessible Source blinkies. What a bewitched time to be alive.

Right now there are two methods of programming the HiFive 1. The Freedom E SDK, and the Arduino IDE. The Arduino IDE appears to be abased on the Freedom E SDK, so either way, you’ll accept to get the SDK running.

Right now, the SDK abandoned works beneath Linux (and OS X, and possibly Cygwin), but abutment for Windows is coming. For Linux users, the accepting started guide is added than sufficient, although it will booty absolutely a while (at atomic 30 minutes) to body all the tools.

Once the Freedom E SDK is installed, abutment for the Arduino IDE appealing abundant avalanche into place. You’ll accept to futz about with the Boards Manager, but with a few clicks, you get article fantastic. You can blink an LED with Accessible Source Hardware.

Blinking an LED is affidavit abundant this can be programmed, but what about the all-inclusive SDK we had to install afore accepting the Arduino IDE working? Here, too, it’s appealing accessible to get the SDK up and running:

For this example, I artlessly afflicted the ‘hello world’ affairs alien with the SDK to a ‘hello Hackaday’ program, aggregate it, and ran it. Yes, addition as impaired as me can abridge and upload a affairs to the HiFive 1.

Before accepting the HiFive 1, I originally planned to criterion this dev lath adjoin added small, accepted dev boards. The SDK comes with a Dhrystone program, authoritative this the accessible choice. The after-effects were not good, but this isn’t a absorption of the ability of the FE310 microcontroller. Acquiesce me to present the abominable infographic you should not pay absorption to:

This analysis used this Dhrystone Arduino sketch with the Arduino Micro, HiFive 1, and the Teensy 3.6. As you would apprehend the Arduino Micro performed ailing (but still ten times faster than a mainframe from 1988), and the Teensy 3.6 was acutely fast. According to this benchmark, the HiFive 1 did awfully at almost alert the accretion ability of the Arduino while active 16 times faster. If this criterion was accurate, it would anon spell the end of the RISC-V ISA.

The aloft criterion is not accurate, and the poor Dhrystone achievement was due to incorrect assumptions about the timer’s frequency. I plopped this botheration up on the SiFive forums, and a application was accessible in a few hours. What does the absolute criterion say?

I love this test. Alpha this review, I originally planned to run a few benchmarks on an Arduino, a Teensy, and the HiFive 1, bandy calm a graph and absorb a hundred or so words on the results.  I got so abundant more.

Right off the bat, we can see the HiFive 1 is fast. Really, absolutely fast. Right now, if you appetite to body a huge RGB LED display, you accept one acceptable option: the Teensy 3.6. If you charge a microcontroller to pump a lot of abstracts out, the Teensy has the power, the memory, and the libraries to do it easily. In this baby but actual ambitious use case, the HiFive 1 ability be better. The HiFive 1 has added Flash (although it’s an SPI Flash), it has DMA, and it has almost alert the processing ability as the Teensy 3.6. This could be very, actual cool, and I can’t delay to see the absolute activity examples of how abundant the HiFive 1 can beforehand out of its pins.

There’s your hundred chat analysis on the achievement of the HiFive 1 based on constructed benchmarks. However, accepting this criterion animate appear far added about the accompaniment of the HiFive’s software, and how abundant abutment SiFive is throwing at it.

Admittedly, I do accept a actual aboriginal adaptation of this board, and the CrowdSupply attack for the HiFive 1 was abandoned adjourned aftermost week. No one would apprehend one of the three audience apps alien with a anew appear lath with a complete architectonics to be absolutely burst (unless it’s an Allwinner chip, but whatever). Actual few bodies would apprehend the devs to get a application out in beneath than 24 hours in acknowledgment to a accidental being on a abutment forum.

All of this circles aback to a distinct ascertainment on the HiFive 1: It’s new. The HiFive 1 and all RISC-V microcontrollers don’t accept a all-inclusive bazaar share, user base, or decades of assignment abaft them. However, the SiFive aggregation seems to be demography their assignment seriously. They’re acclimation the problems they have, and they’re consistently blame out new documentation. This is great, and a actual acceptable adumbration of how abundant abutment the RISC-V chips from SiFive will have.

I should agenda that the association at SiFive aren’t in the business of architecture RISC-V Arduino boards. They’re in the business of authoritative chips for people. This is custom silicon we’re talking about here.

The easiest alongside to draw is amid SiFive and OSH Park. These companies don’t accept their own accomplishment capability; the amount is in abutting end users (engineers, startups) to manufacturers. OSH Park connects you to a lath abode that really knows purple, and SiFive connects you to a dent fab. In the case of the FE310, that’s TSMC.

For anyone who wants silicon you can study, this is great. No, it’s not as simple as sending a lath off to a fab house, but it’s a start. The actuality that SiFive chose to alpha with Accessible Accouterments is great, and we can’t delay to see the added accouterments fabricated with their diaphoresis and hydrofluoric acid.

Update: You can already get your easily on the RTL for the SiFive chips if you appetite to run the cores on your own FPGA.

At the base level, the HiFive 1 is a able microcontroller with a lot of Flash, with abutment for hundreds of Arduino libraries. That’s great, and abandoned this ability be account the $60 amount of admission.

However, the big adventure actuality is the Artlessness of the HiFive 1. Is it absolutely open? No. the HiFive 1 itself uses an FTDI chip, and I’ve heard rumor and buzz the FE310 dent has proprietary $.25 that are ultimately inconsequential to the action of the chip. A austere estimation of Accessible Accouterments will not acquiesce this lath to be alleged Accessible Hardware. Those who beforehand this estimation are dumb, and to adverse this altercation I will adduce the man himself:

…We charge to analyze levels in the architectonics of a agenda artefact (and maybe some added kinds of products). The ambit that connects the chips is one level; anniversary chip’s architectonics is addition level. In an FPGA, the alternation of archaic beef is one level, while the archaic beef themselves are addition level. In the ideal approaching we will appetite the architectonics to be chargeless at all levels. Under present circumstances, aloof authoritative one akin chargeless is a cogent advance.

– Richard M. Stallman, Chargeless Accouterments And Chargeless Accouterments Designs

A architectonics that fails to be absolutely Accessible does not deserve to be aggregate with designs that are absolutely closed.

Nevertheless, this is the best we accept so far, and it is abandoned the beginning. We’re activity to accept added microcontrollers that are added Open, but until then, the HiFive 1 is absolutely a appealing air-conditioned board.

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