When hackers found and developed ways to order PCBs on the cheap, it revolutionized the way we create. Accessible 3D printing brought us entire new areas to create things. [Matt Venn] is one of the people at the forefront of hackers designing our own silicon, and we’ve covered plenty of his research over the years. His latest effort to involve the hacker community, TinyTapeout, makes chip design accessible to newcomers – the bar is as low as arranging logic gates on a web browser page.
For this, [Matt] worked with people like [Uri Shaked] of Wokwi fame, [Sylvain “tnt” Munaut], [jix], and a few others. Together, they created all the tooling necessary, and most importantly, a pipeline where your logic gate-based design in Wokwi gets compiled into a block ready to be put into silicon, with even simulations and compile-time verification for common mistakes. As a result, the design process is remarkably straightforward, to the point where a 9-year-old kid can do it. If you wanted, you could submit your Verilog, too!
The first round of TinyTapeout had a deadline in the first days of September and brought 152 entries together – just in time for an Efabless shuttle submission. All of these designs were put on a single instance of a chip, that will be fabbed in quantity, tested, soldered onto breakouts, and mailed out to individual participants. In this way, everyone will be getting everyone’s design, but thanks to the on-chip muxing hardware, they’re able to switch between designs using on-breakout DIP switches.
More after the break…
The constraints are simple. You get eight digital inputs, eight digital outputs, and there are 200 gates at your disposal. What could you build with this? For a start, a BCD to 7-segment decoder, a UART transmitter, or even a full 4-bit CPU – or maybe, a Wolf, Sheep, and Cabbage game! After the first round of submissions ended, [Matt] has asked people to compile information about their designs – here’s a PDF datasheet with over 30 various designs for you to marvel at, from Hello World ones to CPUs, a variety of circuits with practical or educational purposes.
At the moment, [Matt] is already planning the next TinyTapeout run. If you have a project idea asking to be brought into cold hard logic gates, sign up for the mailing list and you won’t miss news about the next TinyTapeout deadline. The Wokwi template is already open for your experimenting purposes, all that’s left is for the submission form to go open. If you have any questions, the FAQ is quite helpful!
Of course, such projects don’t happen out of nowhere – for a few years, [Matt] has been bringing us hackers teachings on how to get into chip design. We’ve hosted his Zero to ASIC workshop in 2020, the OpenMPW progress story at Remoticon 2021, and just this year, a HackChat on open-source ASICs. TinyTapeout reminds us of the story of how OSHPark was founded – a bunch of people pooling together to order their PCBs, and just like back then, we foresee some fun additions to a regular hacker’s toolkit.