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on 23 June 2021

Canonical enables Ubuntu on SiFive’s HiFive RISC-V boards

With Canonical announcing Ubuntu support for so much new hardware, the announcement of Ubuntu ported to a new architecture can go unnoticed. But today, we have a big one. Working  with the leading RISC-V core IP designer and development board manufacturer, SiFive, we are proud to announce the first Ubuntu release for two of the most prominent SiFive boards, Unmatched and Unleashed.

RISC-V, a new paradigm for Open Source hardware

In the last decade, open source and open standards have reshaped the world we live in. Such technologies have produced long-lasting results and RISC-V consortium has extended open-source to develop a standard open-source processor architecture.

This free and open Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) can enable a new era of processor innovation through open standard collaboration with rapid industry-wide adoption. The architecture can be applied to a broad range of processors, from low-end microcontrollers to high-end server-grade processors. 

SiFive and RISC-V International were founded with the intention of building a collaborative community of software and hardware innovators, all based on the RISC-V ISA, providing a great alternative to closed-source classical architectures for companies with the long-term view of developing their own processors. It has even become a national endeavour for countries like China, India, and Pakistan.

Consolidating reference hardware and software architectures

As RISC-V gains momentum, the emerging industry of vendors is creating an ecosystem of products, with a pile of early adopters eager to begin the application development. However, there is a need for top-notch development systems for developers that can then be taken seamlessly to production.

While RISC-V enables stable reference architectures and hardware, running stable software on new boards can still be challenging. A great effort on cross-toolchain development is required, allowing the cross-compilation of software. The portability of applications is of great importance to move code to the new processor architecture.

The cornerstone of the necessary software is the underlying Operating System (OS), which provides reliability and stability to the system. This demand makes the development on Linux even more attractive, since Linux is the most popular OS for developers and hobbyists, across kernel, drivers, and distributions.

Open source initiatives are backed up by Canonical

At Canonical, we believe that open source is the best way to accelerate innovation. This motivates us to enable a wide range of open source communities under the Ubuntu umbrella. Open source software comes with its own set of challenges. Yes, the code can be accessed easily, but there is a gap when it comes to commercial deployments. What if there is a critical vulnerability (CVE) found in OSS used that is imperative to fix? Who provides updates with bug fixes when there are millions of boards out in the field? Canonical aims to position Ubuntu as not just the reference OS for innovators and developers, but also as the vehicle to enable them to take their products to market faster by letting them focus on their core application, without having to worry about the stability of the underlying frameworks. RISC-V has a lot of potential and is becoming a competitive ISA in multiple markets. With this premise in mind, porting Ubuntu to RISC-V to become the reference OS for early adopters was a no-brainer.

SiFive taking the lead

SiFive (founded by the inventors of RISC-V) is one of the largest investors in RISC-V solutions, delivering a portfolio of commercial RISC-V products that is the most widely adopted in the world.

In addition to the wide portfolio of processor Core IP, the SiFive ecosystem of products include the portfolio of HiFive boards based on different flavours of RISC-V processors and peripherals. 

SiFive HiFive Unleashed is the first Linux-capable development system; it is based on the Freedom U540, the world’s first Linux-capable multi-core RISC-V processor. Although currently discontinued, there is a legion of early adopters and developers using this board from the initial release. 

SiFive’s HiFive Unmatched is the latest platform, based on the Freedom U740 processor, a high-performance multi-core, 64-bit dual-issue, superscalar RISC-V processor. With a PC form factor, the board is a turning point for developers having an eye and a half on production projects.

SiFive and Canonical bring Ubuntu to the latest boards

“As SiFive brings best-in-class RISC-V cores to market, upstream OS and toolchains support ready for silicon availability is a very important part of the software ecosystem. Developers rely on critical components such as Ubuntu to develop and test their software and products”, said Yunsup Lee, CTO and co-founder, SiFive.

The availability of Ubuntu running on the HiFive boards comes as the result of the joint work between Canonical and SiFive engineering teams. Canonical’s team is engaged in an ongoing process of porting Ubuntu to HiFive boards, backed by the SiFive engineering team, as part of a long-term collaboration between the two companies.

“Collaboration is at the heart of successful, strategic, and lasting industry adoption,” shares Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V. “The RISC-V community and our industry benefit from the contribution and collaboration that Canonical and SiFive have brought to RISC-V.” “Congratulations on this amazing milestone together!”

Ubuntu, backed by Canonical, provides a commercial-grade Linux distribution that is also free to use by innovators and developers. “We are delighted to bring Ubuntu to SiFive hardware. Having first-class Ubuntu support enables the  RISC-V ecosystem to scale fearlessly to production, with the assurance that they have access to the same enterprise-grade support and security as on other processor architectures.” said Mark Shuttleworth, CEO and Founder at Canonical.

Canonical’s ability to validate and certify boards with Ubuntu provides a decisive factor for developers enabling them to focus on application development, feeling confident about platform quality and stability, including both – hardware and the underlying OS.

Promising future

As RISC-V platforms mature, there are a large number of initiatives striving hard to position products and provide for the increasing market demand. Canonical’s goal is to standardise the underlying OS, providing a stable, secure Linux distribution for top-notch boards, helping early adopters to focus on their applications development and business case, and providing a reliable and out-of-the-box experience, followed by a path to commercial support for a successful go-to-market. Canonical’s initiatives, including the security-hardened Ubuntu Core operating system, snap-based containerization and an app-based mindset to embedded systems, promises to smoothen the path for industrial, robotics, and automotive deployments as the industry moves to a 5G-enabled IoT era.

Ubuntu on HiFive boards available now

Three different Ubuntu images are now available for SiFive’s HiFive boards, and more work is expected to include new features and a port to the latest Ubuntu releases.

HiFive Unmatched is supported by Ubuntu 21.04. The riscv64+unmatched.img.xz image can be used on any SiFive HiFive Unmatched board or under qemu. The Ubuntu 20.04.3 LTS will also support the HiFive Unmatched.

HiFive Unleashed is supported by Ubuntu 21.04 and Ubuntu 20.04.2 LTS. The riscv64+unleashed.img.xz image can be used on any SiFive HiFive Unleashed board or under qemu.

For guidance and discussion on the images and the best ways to install them please use the Ubuntu discourse under the documentation itself so everyone can benefit from your experience.  

Further reading

SiFive Forums



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