As the adoption of RISC-V accelerates, many companies are taking advantage of the open-source chip architecture to create custom processors designed to handle the power and performance requirements of newer workloads for artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), virtual/augmented reality, and more. For those of you new to RISC-V, it is an open-source Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that began as a 2010 project of UC Berkeley’s Parallel Computing Laboratory and is now ushering in a new era of chip design and innovation.
As the adoption of RISC-V accelerates, it will be used to support a plethora of devices and products, from automotive to 5G and wireless networking, to data centers and beyond. We are seeing new RISC-V architectures that are, for example, designed to deliver new capabilities for pre-silicon development, allowing new ways for SoC (System-on-Chip) architects and system software developers to define new products. This enables organizations to quickly prototype a product, including products for automotive with safety packages.
Today, we are also seeing high-end RISC-V CPUs that are unique in the ecosystem, enabling differentiated solutions for areas like automotive, edge computing, networking and switching, and large-scale computing systems.
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I’m sure many of you have heard the buzz about RISC-V, but may still be unsure if it’s the right architecture for your organization. Unlike legacy ISAs, which are not designed to handle modern workloads, RISC-V has numerous advantages, including its openness, simplicity, clean-slate design, modularity, extensibility, and stability.
Here are my top three reasons why organizations should adopt RISC-V:
- A Robust Software Ecosystem – Having a strong developer community is an important asset for any platform. As former Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer once famously said, “Developers, developers, developers!” RISC-V, as an open-source ISA has a growing software community that already provides vast software support, and this is expected to grow as RISC-V becomes widely adopted. For many companies, the cost of supporting additional proprietary ISAs is too high. Therefore, they prefer to support the RISC-V ISA instead (in many cases, in addition to X86 and ARM). Basically, the more tools and software that are available on an ISA, the more likely companies will be to develop chips based on that ISA. Likewise, the more chips that are out there based on a specific ISA, the more likely developers will be to create software and tools for that ISA. It’s a big happy circle of success – like an organic ecosystem.
- Software Multiple Implementation (or device independent) – The same software can run on many hardware implementations, taking advantage of new hardware opportunities without the need to change the software. In other words, an ML code can run on a CPU only, CPU / GPU, CPU, and many other configurations. Furthermore, the RISC-V structure supports proprietary instructions while maintaining compliance with the RISC-V ISA.
- Accelerating Innovation & Time-to-Market – One of the biggest benefits to organizations adopting RISC-V is accelerating innovation. Some of these RISC-V platforms include high-performance cores with support for multi-cluster, multi-core and multi-threading technologies to further accelerate innovation. These multiprocessors have unique features and a high level of scalability that make them ideal for compute-intensive tasks across a broad range of markets and applications. Furthermore, with the introduction of such high-performance solutions, RISC-V CPUs can be used not only as co-processors, but also as application processors in a system. Keep in mind that the main drive behind RISC-V is to remove the complexity in designing processor cores. The reason developers are fond of RISC-V is that it simplifies the instructions given to the processor to accomplish tasks and provides the flexibility to create thousands of possible custom processors. This significantly enables companies to get their designs to market faster.
The adoption of RISC-V is critical for many organizations, including startups, to compete in the open era of computing. Research firm Semico predicts the number of chips that include at least some RISC-V technology will grow 73.6 percent per year through 2027. This is largely driven by the demand for AI and machine learning.
RISC-V will play an increasingly critical role in driving the future development of more innovative and efficient chips. We will continue to see RISC-V used for deeply embedded applications and increasingly see it being used as the main applications processors in systems as the RISC-V software ecosystem matures to support them.
While the future of chip development will involve a diverse array of chip architectures, RISC-V is moving toward industry-wide adoption. Those organizations that adopt this open computer architecture now will reap the benefits for decades to come.
MIPS is a developer of highly scalable RISC processor IP for high-end automotive, computing, and communications applications.