June 04, 2020

Is the open source instruction set RISC-V more suitable for the Internet of Things?

On the afternoon of October 17, 2018, the China RISC-V Industry Consortium (CRVIC) and the Shanghai RISC-V Professional Committee were held in Pudong, and the RISC-V Industrialization Summit was held. .
At the inaugural meeting, Fu Xinhua, deputy director of the Shanghai Economic and Information Technology Committee, said that Shanghai has always attached great importance to the integrated circuit industry as the earliest domestic integrated circuit industry, with the most concentrated industry, the most complete industrial chain and high comprehensive technical level. The development of the integrated circuit industry has always been an important support point for the construction of science and technology centers, as an important breakthrough to undertake the strategy of manufacturing power.
RISC-V is the new focus of the global semiconductor industry, and because of its complete open source, simple design, easy to transplant Unix system, modular design, complete tool chain, and a large number of open source implementation and streaming cases, making it in ARM and X86 The architecture is difficult to obtain authorization, and it is favored by many regions.
What is RISC-V? What are the advantages?
Let's first understand what the RISC-V instruction set is. Compared to Arm and Intel X86, RISC-V has its own advantages.
The Microprocessor Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) is the bridge between communication hardware and software operations. It is the soul of the processor. It includes complex instruction set operations (CISC), reduced instruction set operations (RISC), and explicit parallel instruction set operations. EPIC) and the Very Long Instruction Word Instruction Set Operation (VLIW) are four types.
Among them, Intel X86 belongs to CISC complex instruction set architecture, ARM belongs to RISC reduced instruction set architecture, RISC-V is the same as Arm and belongs to RISC architecture. Because it is the fifth version of RISC, it is called RISC-V (five). ).
Since the birth of RlSC-V at Berkeley in 2010, one of the biggest voices in the industry is that RISC-V may change the existing competitive landscape of processor architecture dominated by Arm and Intel X86, especially for Arm in consumer, Embedded markets such as IOT have had an impact. In June of this year, Arm also established a special site, riscv-basics.com, to attack RISC-V from five aspects: cost, ecosystem, fragmentation risk, security and design assurance, highlighting Arm to RISC-V. Potential opponents are highly valued.
Is RISC-V more suitable for IoT than ARM?
The CPU is the foundation of the information industry, and the Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) is the basis of the processor chip. At present, almost all processor chips in the server and PC fields are dominated by the X86 architecture (Intel Corporation of the United States), and the processor chips (CPUs) in the mobile domain represented by smart phones and terminal devices are almost entirely composed of ARM architectures (Japan). ARM) monopoly.
Compared to the strict authorization mechanism of these mainstream architectures, the new instruction set RISC-V, which was founded in 1988 by the University of California at Berkeley, is completely different. It was established at the beginning of its establishment to open, share and secure.
Any company, research organization, or individual in the world is free to develop and sell processors that are compatible with the RISC-V instruction set architecture, and can be flexibly modified to add new features without the expense of instruction set licenses; RISC- The V Foundation participates in the evolution of the instruction set specification without worrying about the uncontrollable and insecure drawbacks caused by the traditional proprietary instruction set.

Figure: RISC-V and existing mainstream architecture (ARM, x86 comparison) Source: Core Microelectronics, CICC Research
Since RISC-V is an open ecological environment, the cost of development can be borne by companies upstream and downstream of the entire industry chain, reducing the cost of research and development at each link.
At the same time, as the RISC-V ecosystem matures, the development cost of chips using the RISC-V architecture will gradually decrease. Just as the prevalence of x86 is due to the development of PC, and the popularity of ARM benefits from the outbreak of mobile terminals, the landing of application scenarios is also crucial to the development of the architecture.
RISC-V has the advantages of streamlining, low power consumption, modularity, and scalability, especially for embedded applications such as the Internet of Things and scenarios that require customization.
The fragmentation and customizable requirements of the Internet of Things are perfectly matched with RISC-V open source, modular and scalable, and simple features. The requirements of intelligent high-performance computing for heterogeneous systems are highly compatible with the characteristics of RISC-V. Greatly promoted the development of the RISC-V architecture. RISC-V brings significant flexibility and cost advantages to the IoT industry while also driving the rapid growth of heterogeneous computing systems.

Figure: The Internet of Things market will be the largest application scenario for RISC-V. Source: Gartner, CICC Research
The open and free RISC-V architecture was born, not only good news for universities and research institutions, but also for start-up companies with limited funds, cost-sensitive products, and areas that are less dependent on existing software ecosystems. Kind of choice.
The RISC-V architecture allows the instruction set to be extended and tailored to the actual application, enabling the processor core to be implemented on a case-by-case basis without incurring high licensing fees, thus gaining support from major technology companies in the industry, including Google. Technology companies such as Sla, Samsung and Qualcomm have joined the RISC-V camp and are growing rapidly around the ecology of RISC-V.
The RISC-V ecosystem is on the rise
The RISC-V ecosystem is rapidly emerging worldwide and is a major innovation focus for emerging industries such as the semiconductor industry and the Internet of Things and edge computing.
The RISC-V Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2015, has joined more than 150 companies or organizations, including Google, Huawei, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, MIT, Princeton University, India. Institute of Science and Technology, Institute of Computing, Chinese Academy of Sciences, etc.
A new ecosystem and industry chain is booming around the development of IP cores, chips, systems, and software around the RISC-V instruction set standard. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has supported the research and practicalization of the RISC-V instruction set through special procedures for many years.
China's RISC-V is still in its infancy, and Shanghai is the first region in China to explicitly support RISC-V. In July this year, the Shanghai Municipal Economic Information Commission issued the notice of the Shanghai Municipal Economic Information Commission on the project to launch the second batch of special funds for the development of software and integrated circuit industry in Shanghai (integrated circuit and electronic information manufacturing) in 2018. ", clearly support the RISC-V related design and development of enterprises. This has played a very important role in promoting the development of the RISC-V instruction set in China, and has allowed China to advance in parallel with the international advanced level in the field from the beginning.
The following is an excerpt from the Annex to the "Notice", the second batch of Shanghai Special Fund for Software and Integrated Circuit Industry Development (part of the IC and Electronic Information Manufacturing Sector) Guide for 2018:
Processor chip orientation based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture. Support R&D and industrialization of processor chips based on RISC-V instruction set architecture and 32-bit and above. The kernel needs to have independent intellectual property rights.
Direction 1: For the Internet of Things and industrial control applications, with excellent performance, power consumption, area and other indicators, priority to support projects with clear user cooperation agreements. The accumulated sales revenue during the project execution period shall not be less than RMB 20 million.
Direction 2: For intelligent terminal applications, the main frequency is no less than 1GHz, the performance is not less than 1.5 DMIPS/MHz, support double-precision floating-point operation, support mainstream operating system, multi-core technology and cache consistency. The accumulated sales revenue during the project execution period shall not be less than 10 million yuan.
The establishment of the China RISC-V Industry Alliance is to gather and integrate domestic RISC-V innovation forces, to promote the construction of RISC-V industry ecology, and to enhance the influence of Chinese enterprises in RISC-V instruction set innovation and standard setting. At the same time, accelerate the marketing and industrial application of RISC-V, and help to form an effective long-term mechanism such as industry-university-research cooperation mechanism, common technology cooperation development mechanism, and intellectual property cooperation mechanism to enhance the core competitiveness of the industry.
The China RISC-V Industry Alliance was initiated by key enterprises, research institutes and industry associations in the RISC-V field at home and abroad. The core holding company is the first director unit of the alliance. Currently, there are more than 50 RISC-V related companies. And more than a dozen universities and research institutions have joined, involving many IP design services, chips, software, system applications.
China RISC-V Industry Alliance will work to solve the key problems faced by China's RISC-V field, and establish a domestically-made, controllable and secure RISC-V heterogeneous computing platform to promote the formation of IP cores, chips, software, The RISC-V industrial ecosystem of systems and applications.
The significance of RISC-V to China's semiconductor industry
The current status of China's semiconductor industry is extremely uneven development. The design capability of SoC chips is very strong, but the upstream IP and downstream technologies are very weak. The IP industry's capital investment demand is not high, but the technical barriers are high, the return period is long, and at the same time, because it is in the most upstream of the industry, it is not given the corresponding attention.
Hu Zhenbo, CEO of Xinlai Technology, analyzed the significance of RISC-V for the local semiconductor industry at the China RISC-V Alliance Conference. He said that the development of AIOT brought about diversified and quantified chip demand, and the arrival of the post-Moore's Law era inspired the power of differentiated design and software and hardware architecture innovation. RISC-V benefits from its open ecology, good technical foundation and scalability, and it is in line with this trend. Its birth and growth is the inevitable development of the times.
He said that mainland China's local chip industry has the characteristics of strong intermediate (application-oriented SoC chip capability), weak two ends (IP side and weak manufacturing base); RISC-V can make up the local short-board on the processor IP side, Helping the local to improve the self-controllable industrial ecology and realize more technological innovation and differentiation is of great significance to the local semiconductor industry.
From this point of view, China's embrace of the RISC-V standard will help to achieve autonomy, control and prosperity of the CPU in the civilian sector, especially in the emerging field. The biggest opportunity that RISC-V brings to the Chinese industry is a starting line that is consistent with the world. Only by establishing a domestically-owned, controllable and secure heterogeneous computing platform can we achieve an overall leap in the industry in the new technological transformation.

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