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OpenPiton: An Open Source Hardware Platform For Your Research

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Industry is building larger, more complex, manycore processors on the back of strong institutional knowledge, but academic projects face difficulties in replicating that scale. To alleviate these difficulties and to develop and share knowledge, the community needs open architecture frameworks for simulation, chip design, and software exploration that support extensibility, scalability, and configurability, alongside an established base of verification tools and supported software. In this article, we present OpenPiton, an open source framework for building scalable architecture research prototypes from one core to 500 million cores. OpenPiton is the world's first open source, general-purpose, multithreaded manycore processor, and framework. OpenPiton is highly configurable, providing a rich design space spanning a variety of hardware parameters that researchers can change. OpenPiton designs can be emulated on FPGAs, where they can run full-stack multiuser Debian Linux. OpenPiton is designed to scale to very large core fabrics, enabling researchers to measure operating system, compiler, and software scalability. The mature code-base reflects the complexity of an industrial-grade design and provides the necessary scripts to build new chips, making OpenPiton a natural choice for computer-aided design (CAD) research. OpenPiton has been validated with a 25-core chip prototype, named Piton, and is bolstered by a validation suite that has thousands of tests, providing an environment to test new hardware designs while verifying the correctness of the whole system. OpenPiton is being actively used in research both internally to Princeton and in the wider community, as well as being adopted in education, industry, and government settings.

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1. Introduction

Building processors for academic research purposes can be a risky proposition. Particularly as processors have grown in size, and with the focus on multicore and manycore processors,17, 19, 20, 21, 14, 22, 6 the number of potential points of failure in chip fabrication has increased drastically. To combat this, the community needs well-tested, open-source, scalable frameworks that they can rely on as baselines to work from and compare against. To reduce "academic time-to-publication", these frameworks must provide robust software tools, mature full-system software stacks, rely on industry-standard languages, and provide thorough test suites. Additionally, to support research in a broad variety of fields, these frameworks must be highly configurable, be synthesizable to FPGA and ASIC for prototyping purposes, and provide the basis for others to tape-out (manufacture) their own, modified academic chips. Building and supporting such an infrastructure is a major undertaking which has prevented such prior designs. Our framework, OpenPiton, attacks this challenge and provides all of these features and more.

OpenPiton is the world's first open source, general-purpose, multithreaded manycore processor. OpenPiton is scalable and portable; the architecture supports addressing for up to 500-million cores, supports shared memory both within a chip and across multiple chips, and has been designed to easily enable high performance 1000+ core microprocessors and beyond. The design is implemented in industry-standard Verilog HDL and does not require the use of any new languages. OpenPiton enables research from the small to the large with demonstrated implementations from the slimmed-down, single-core PicoPiton, which is emulated on a $160 Xilinx Artix 7 at 29.5MHz, up to the 25-core Piton processor which targeted a 1GHz operating point and was recently validated and thoroughly characterized.12, 13


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