RISC-V, the emerging open-source instruction set processor architecture, is growing up. Sure, most of the attention has come from hardware hackers playing on RISC-V processors on development boards from companies such as SiFive. But, according to RISC-V CTO Mark Himelstein, RISC-V processors have already found a home in data centers and Alibaba cloud servers. So, it's high time for classes on how to use this new open-source hardware architecture. Then you need to know Linux and open-source software.
The SiFive Performance P650 processor is expected to be the fastest licensable RISC-V processor IP core in the market, bringing RISC-V into new markets and applications, and will debut to lead partners in Q1 2022. SAN MATEO, Calif., December 2, 2021 – SiFive, Inc., the founder and leader of RISC-V computing, today announced the availability of the SiFive Performance P650 processor, the new range-topping member of the SiFive Performance family, which is expected to be the fastest licensable RISC-V processor IP core in the market. The SiFive Performance P650 will enable RISC-V designs for performance-demanding application processor markets from data center to edge, automotive, compute, mobile and more. "SiFive's mission is to answer the semiconductor industry's call for more processor IP choices. SiFive is singularly focused on bringing innovative processor technology based on the RISC-V architecture to market," said Dr. Yunsup Lee, co-founder and CTO, SiFive.
Today, if you want to build a high-performance computing device, you can almost certainly find all the software you need in a free and open form. The same is not true for the processor chips that run that free software -- whatever you choose, a chunk of what you pay will go on proprietary hardware licences to Intel, ARM, or their friends. RISC-V, pronounced'Risk-Five', is a new architecture that's available under open, free and non-restrictive licences. It has widespread industry support from chip and device makers, and is designed to be freely extensible and customisable to fit any market niche. To be a success, however, it has to perform technically as well as be economic to design for, verify and program.
Calista Redmond, chief executive of the microprocessor consortium RISC-V International, is a fan of the wild days of chip competition back in the 1980s. "This is the biggest opportunity to change the trajectory of computing and hardware that history has seen since the 80s, and that gets me excited every day," said Redmond in a recent interview with ZDNet via Zoom. She was referring to the flowering in the '80s of numerous different computer chip architectures. They included not only Intel's x86 processors, but IBM's POWER architecture; MIPS-based processors made by companies such as NEC and Toshiba; Digital Equipment Corp.'s Alpha series of processors; Sun's Sparc processors; Motorola's PowerPC series; and Hewlett-Packard's PA-RISC series, to name just some of the more obvious chips. Many of these processor families faded over the decades, leaving two main processor camps, x86, and the ARM processors made by the U.K. firm of that name, which is owned by Japan's Softbank Group, and which is being sold to Nvidia.
The activity around creating a legit graphics processor for RISC-V chip designs, an emerging competitor to x86 and ARM, is gaining steam. Special interest groups at RISC-V next year will expand the focus on extensions for shaders and advanced matrix operations, which is important for artificial intelligence and machine learning, Mark Himelstein, chief technology officer at RISC-V, told The Register. RISC-V International, which developed the instruction set architecture, has interest groups develop extensions that users can add to their chip designs. In 2021, 16 RISC-V extensions were ratified, Himelstein said, and that number will grow next year. Many new extensions were part of mainstream computing chips announced this year at the RISC-V Summit.