Open source hardware supported RISC-V processor designs features a little bit of drift compared to its software counterpart: The framework freezes instruction set architecture (ISA) as a durable long-term component. Here, ISA is that the vocabulary that RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge understand, so software is written therein vocabulary. How software is coded therein language tells the processor what to try to to .
Anyone can take the RISC-V ISA and style other aspects like extensions. What’s the hardware approach has in common with open source software is that RISC-V is freed from IP entanglements, and participants can share the results of their design efforts.
In short, RISC-V allows design engineers to innovate, providing them the liberty of choice.
Krste Asanovic, SiFive’s co-founder and chief architect, clarified RISC-V’s standing within the open source hardware world during a CES 2021 discussion . “RISC-V isn’t an open source processor,” Asanovic noted. “Instead, it’s an open standard for developing a RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge.” Hence, the specification is open, and anybody can implement it.
That’s like a micro-architecture license that permits a RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge developer to customize the precise way it wants to optimize a processor design. Take, for instance , Western Digital, a memory device maker that developed its own controller RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge for solid-state drive designs. The goal was optimizing the controller interface to both the most CPU and non-volatile storage .
During the RISC-V Summit 2020, Western Digital showcased a flash controller supported its open source RISC-V-enabled SweRV cores. Ted Marena, the company’s senior business director for RISC-V, said Western Digital is releasing the RISC-V cores to the open source community.
“While we had invested in developing the cores, it’s not really the core that’s secret,” he said. “Instead, it’s the things built round the core like interface to host RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge that matters the foremost .” Added Marena: “How you interface the flash on the opposite side are often the important differentiator.” Making cores available to the open source community also attracted outside contributions that would ultimately cause design enhancements, he added.
CPU Core Choices
While companies like Nvidia and Western Digital are building chips supported their own RISC-V cores, others can license pre-built configurable cores. For that, they approach companies like SiFive, which views its role as analogous to Red Hat for Linux, providing a spread of licensable RISC-V cores that RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge designers can incorporate into their commercial silicon.
While that’s a big a part of the company’s business, SiFive also provides services that allow engineers to require their RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge design through to chip fabrication.
According to Art Swift, president and CEO of AI chipmaker Esperanto Technologies, more designers are moving to RISC-V as they pursue different business models. “Instead of a couple of MCUs, all supported an equivalent core, RISC-V provides a chance to license a greater sort of cores from multiple vendors.”
There are currently a minimum of seven commercial providers of RISC-V cores.
With the prevailing proprietary ISA, managed by one vendor, Swift said RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge designs that don’t address specific industry needs means customers are cursed with an ISA unless they acquire a costly architecture license permitting them to create custom cores. And reselling cores is not any longer an option. That’s why few companies—like Apple—can afford that level of investment.
In the case of RISC-V, however, the architecture license is free. Users can either build their own core or choose an open source version. As Swift notes, having many core options is additionally critical for future-proofing designs.
Esperanto, an early adopter, packs quite 1,000 low-power RISC-V cores during a single chip to accelerate AI workloads in data centers.
Next Computing Revolution?
Nearly 20 years ago, programmers considered Linux a distinct segment technology, guessing it might go nowhere. We now see a redux within the hardware community, with startups building RISC-V Processor Designs Emerge supported the RISC-V open standard, and venture capitalists scrutinizing chip upstarts.
Simultaneously, big players like Nvidia and Western Digital also are looking to RISC-V for giant volume implementations.
RISC-V, which began as a search project, has come an extended way as an evolving open standard for processor designs. As Swift noted, RISC-V isn’t about religious wars between instruction sets, because it was within the past.
Instead, it’s about innovation capacity and freedom of choice.
Also notable is growing momentum, infrastructure and a software ecosystem coalescing around RISC-V processor designs. The promise of open source hardware appears alive and well within the sort of RISC-V open standard, perhaps introduction subsequent computing revolution.