What is RISC-V?
RISC-V is an open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) derived from reduced instruction set computer (RISC) principles. It was first established at Berkeley University in 2010 as the world's first free ISA available to software communities and semiconductor manufacturers.
The RISC-V foundation is an over 235 member-strong community comprising of chip makers, designers, and academia committed to charting the way forward for the next 50 years of computer innovation and design via open standard collaboration.
Have a look below at some of the ways that companies are paving the way in RISC-V ISA implementation.
AdaCore Technologies is a leading commercial software provider that joined the RISC-V community in January 2019.
The company provides development and verification software for applications that utilise the Ada programming language and SPARK: tools for error detection and mitigation in the software lifecycle.
Following AdaCore’s support of the RISC ISA, developers can now implement the RISC-V architecture in both languages—providing a unique environment for safety and security-critical applications such as its firmware product development for automated and autonomous driving with NVIDIA, which will be rewritten from C to Ada and SPARK.
SiFive Linux-based RISC-V board. Image courtesy of Linux.
SiFive is a fabless semiconductor manufacturer that utilises RISC-V architecture in its computer chips. SiFive's range of products includes system on chip (SoC) circuits and development boards, and the company has achieved several industry firsts.
In November 2016, SiFive released its customisable 310 SoC and low-cost HiFive 1 development kit, becoming the first company to adopt the RISC-V ISA in a chip. The following year, they introduced the 64-bit, quad-core U54-MC: the world's first RISC-V application processor with support for full-featured operating systems like Linux.
Currently, the company is developing cheaper and more efficient design techniques for the creation of custom SoCs; this allows customers to choose their preferred plan, prototype a system, and test it using virtual chips.
Antmicro is an embedded tech company and founding member of the RISC-V foundation. The company provides edge AI and cyber-physical solutions to solve complex problems for its customers.
The company is largely invested in FPGA SoCs and computer vision, as well as heterogeneous, multi-core, and multi-node systems. Antmicro partners with Microsemi to provide support for its RISC-V based Mi-V soft CPUs and processor subsystems, such as Microsemi’s low-power, low-cost PolarFire FPGAs. The Antmicro/Microsemi RISC-V Renode platform uses C# and advanced abstraction layers to develop multi-nodal solutions for customers on a simulated environment.
Microsemi field-programmable gate array. Image courtesy of Microsemi.
Microsemi is a semiconductor company that designs chips and system solutions for the medical, defence, aerospace, communications, and industrial markets.
In 2016, it became the first company to offer FPGA-based RISC-V IP processor cores (which it developed in collaboration with SiFive) as well as extensive embedded software toolchain.
Microsemi's Mi-V RISC-V cores are available on the RTG4, IGLOO2, and SmartFusion2 SoC FPGAs, which achieve up to 50 per cent power savings over static RAM (SRAM) FPGAs. The Libero suite enables full SoC design functionality, and the SoftConsole IDE has a GCC compiler and debugger tool for C or C++ embedded firmware development.
Less than a decade after its introduction, RISC-V has been received positively by design industries and makers from across the globe. With its open-source ISA, RISC-V simplifies design and reduces costs giving just about any chipset maker or software designer maximum flexibility to design its processors without paying royalties.
The RISC-V Foundation’s main objectives for widespread adoption, processor innovation, and open-source collaboration are being met by its over 235-member global design community through information sharing via source code on platforms such as GitHub. Leading RISC-V companies provide software engineering for basic Linux implementations, GNU-based development tools, and a variety of core designs.
Since most of RISC-V’s user-space ISA is frozen pending ratification by members of the RISC Foundation, there are ample opportunities for the core ISA to be further improved. With 5G technology taking shape and new IoT applications on the fore, we can expect novel applications for RISC-based processors as more companies join the ecosystem in 2019 and beyond.
For more information on the RISC-V Foundation, check out EP's interview with RISC-V's chairman, Ted Marena.