The European Processor Initiative (EPI) has successfully conducted the first test of its RISC-V-based European Processor Accelerator (EPAC), touting it as the first step toward homegrown supercomputing hardware.
Launched in 2018, the EPI aims to reduce the European supercomputing industry’s reliance on foreign technology companies. At its core is the use of the free and open source RISC-V instruction set architecture for the development and production of high-performance chips within Europe.
The project’s latest milestone is the delivery of 143 EPAC chip samples, an accelerator designed for high-performance computing applications and built around the free and open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.
The 22-nanometer test chip, designed to prove processor designs, is made at GlobalFoundries, the semiconductor maker spun off from AMD in 2009—and the latest news shows that the chip has passed preliminary tests, running a “Hello, World” program.
It’s a quick turnaround. The EPAC design was validated on an FPGA in March, and the program announced in June a silicon tape-out of the test chip—26.97mm2 area with 14 million placeable instances, equivalent to 93 million gates, including 991 Storage instance.
While an FPGA variant that implements a subset of the full EPAC design functionality was shown to boot a Linux operating system, the physical test chip has so far been tested with only a rudimentary bare-metal workload—a lot of work remains to be done.
EPI has received funding as part of the European Union’s European High Performance Computing Consortium, EuroHPC, of which the UK is not a member. Its membership roster is a who’s who of European technology companies and academic institutions in 10 countries, including Atos in France, the Italian branch of STMicroelectronics, Infineon and Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft (FhG) in Germany, BMW Group, Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC), ETH Zürich, Instituto Superior Técnico, University of Zagreb and Greek Research and Technology Foundation (FORTH).
The EPAC 1.0 chip is an undeniable team effort: it includes “microwatt” vector processing cores designed by SemiDynamics, dedicated vector processing units at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the University of Zagreb, “home nodes” designed by Chalmers , L2 cache from FORTH, Stencil and Tensor Accelerator (STX) from Fraunhofer, ITWM and ETH Zürich, and a variable-precision processor created by CEA LIST designed to accelerate deep learning workloads, all bundled with an on-chip network A high-speed serial system created together with EXTOLL.
This processor is just one of three technology streams being developed by EPI. The second is a general-purpose processor (GPP), which will employ accelerators as central processing unit cores and embedded FPGAs (eFPGAs) as side nodes. The third is the automotive stream, where technologies developed in the GPP stream will be taken out of the data center and put into vehicles to accelerate automated driving system (ADS) workloads.
The EU is by no means alone in its quest to reduce its reliance on foreign technology. Earlier this year, Russia announced a national digitization plan centered on RISC-V components, based on the country’s existing home-made Elbrus chips; at the same time, China is working to develop a family of high-performance RISC-V chips . India’s self-sufficient “Atmanirbhar Bharat” program has also expanded to processors, with RISC-V designs ranging from scalable parts to EPI-like supercomputer chips.
The EPI project has confirmed that it is working on validating other IP blocks on the chip, with the goal of achieving 1GHz operation in its current FCBGA package test chip version and further advancing the development and optimization of the EPAC design. It did not respond to queries about the status of its roadmap in time for publication.
“Open source chips are a great enabler for EPI and more,” Stefan Wallentowitz, director of RISC-V International and the FOSSi Foundation, told The Register. “Using open source components to build modern and future high-performance computing platforms demonstrates the potential of open source chips and helps build communities around it. We hope to see this effort evolve into more collaboration and openness.”
Assuming the project remains on schedule, the first EPI general-purpose processors to mix RISC-V and Arm cores will debut next year.
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