5 good things about RISC-V
September 22, 2022
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September 22, 2022
RISC-V has been around for some time now, and if you are here it’s because you have heard of it. But perhaps you still need to be convinced that it is the future? If you still wonder about its potential and benefits, here are 5 good things about RISC-V.
Let’s start simple. This is nothing new, but let’s be clear on what open standard means.
Open standard does not necessarily mean open source. The RISC-V architecture is often described as “open-source”, which is inaccurate. As we explained it in this article on architecture licenses in the context of RISC-V, RISC-V is like C, Wi-Fi, or LTE with RISC-V International performing the role of (respectively) ANSI, IEEE 802.11 and 3GPP in defining and managing standards that people are free to implement as they choose. But that is a written standard – not an implementation or a microarchitecture. Just as is the case with those other open standards, RISC-V licenses can either be open-source or commercial.
Therefore, the RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) is open, meaning that it is free and anyone can download the documentation to use it however they like, without asking for anyone’s permission. This is great because it allows smaller developers, companies, and groups such as academics to design and build hardware without paying an expensive proprietary ISA license and royalties. RISC-V is accessible to everyone.
You may already know that RISC-V started as a university research project in California, at UC Berkeley, back in 2010. As we just mentioned the interesting financial aspect it brings, it is not really surprising to see more and more university researchers looking into it.
Now, researchers can do it two ways. Thanks to the work of various academic institutions such as UC Berkley, there are free open-source implementations of the RISC-V ISA available. These can be used in university projects to do work that would not be possible without an open standard.
To go one step further, universities can also partner with RISC-V companies that are developing university programs. What a great way to prepare today’s students to become the engineers of tomorrow! Codasip for example has a University Program. By cooperating with academia, we can accelerate the development of RISC-V IP and design automation. Having university researchers working on RISC-V is another key to its success in solving tomorrow’s technological challenges.
That’s where the true potential of RISC-V is.
The RISC-V open standard allows people to customize. Most commercial companies do not support this, however. They sell a standard, fixed, product. Of course, if you design your own code, then the freedom is there – but for most people, that is not possible. Some companies, like Codasip, give the best of both worlds: customization and the rich ecosystem of RISC-V. With RISC-V being a layered and extensible ISA, these companies allow you to implement the baseline instruction set, optional extensions, and add custom extensions for a given application.
Let me just clarify one thing here. Don’t mix up customization and configuration. Being able to choose the size of a cache is great, but that’s not customization. Customization means being able to modify the instruction set architecture and the microarchitecture. That’s quite powerful as this is how you design an application-specific processor perfectly tailored to your unique needs.
Let’s go one step further now. By allowing customization, RISC-V allows you to be independent. You work from an open standard that you can modify as you want. You can now do your own things, your own way, while still talking advantage of the standard RISC-V architecture and software interoperability. That’s something very powerful and that will be crucial in many industry sectors.
Let’s take the example of automotive. Owning the ability to differentiate is the key to success in such a rapidly evolving sector. Players in this industry will need best-in-class quality IP but also processor design automation technology with the potential to accelerate innovation through processor customization. Jamie Broome, our VP of Automotive, wrote an interesting article on the potential of RISC-V and customization for automotive.
The RISC-V standard is maintained by RISC-V International, with members such as Codasip, coming from across the industry: software, systems, semiconductor and IP. The focus is on building a rich hardware and software ecosystem, and this is happening. RISC-V International mentions more than 3,100 RISC-V members across 70 countries.
There have been new processors and new ISAs in the past. But what is different about RISC-V is the ecosystem. As both Intel and Arm have shown, this is the critical factor in a processor architecture’s success. More ecosystem players means more software, more tools: that means more developers selecting that ISA, more commercial traction, which in turn attracts more ecosystem partners in an accelerating virtuous spiral. It is that spiral that is driving the market success of RISC-V.
Did you hear about the Intel® Pathfinder for RISC-V program? Or the OpenHW Group? From creating development environments to starting your RISC-V journey to make verification a real strength, the ecosystem is growing and evolving rapidly to make RISC-V the preferred choice of the majority.
RISC-V is for all. That’s the great thing about it. And with more players, from tools and IP providers to adopters, there is only more choice which can only lead to greater innovation. We, at Codasip, are very excited to be part of the revolution.
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