by Mark Lippett, CEO of XMOS
US developers conceived the revolutionary instruction set architecture (ISA) known as RISC-V in 2010. Grounded in reduced instruction set computer (RISC) principles, it’s a common, open-source, and completely free ISA that can be used to develop software and hardware. These attributes are just part of what makes the architecture unique and attractive to developers and manufacturers.
While it’s far from new, momentum around RISC-V is continuing to accelerate, with various services, technologies, and products that leverage this architecture emerging in the past year alone. According to Deloitte, use of RISC-V’s open-chip processors was expected to double this year and is set to double again in 2023.
With more innovation around this ISA expected to launch at the RISC-V Summit in December, it’s clear that the intelligent IoT revolution remains a priority for developers and manufacturers. So, what does the future of this architecture look like, and who stands to benefit from its ongoing popularity and success?
Competition breeds innovation
The creation of RISC-V brought with it a novel approach to silicon design. Unlike the expensive and decades-old legacy ISAs that are not designed to handle the latest compute workloads, this new approach was created with flexibility, modularity, and scalability in mind – without cost. This increased accessibility drives more competition, leading to a new generation of innovation that will benefit everyone.
And it’s not just the big players that stand to benefit—smaller developers and manufacturers can use RISC-V to design and build hardware without the usual costs associated with licensing proprietary ISAs or paying royalties. As a result, companies of all sizes can innovate, improve, and create using the architecture, allowing everyone to have a fair crack of the whip when it comes to putting the best products on the market. This spells great things for both the industry’s advancement and the benefits consumers will get from the new and innovative devices on the market.
With applications including artificial intelligence, IoT, automotive, and cloud servers, to name a few, the possibilities for the architecture and what it can enable are limitless. But outside of its benefits to the future of these industries, the open-source nature of RISC-V also brings more specific advantages to the manufacturers that adopt and enter this ecosystem and the community of engineers that use it.
A virtuous cycle
The more tools and software available on an ISA, the more likely companies are to develop chips using it. Similarly, the more chips are based on a specific ISA; the more likely developers will be to create tools and software using that ISA. Effectively, it’s a win-win.
For many businesses working in this space, the cost of supporting additional ISAs is too high, making RISC-V even more attractive. Through better collaboration and open-source IP reuse, these manufacturers can reduce development costs, accelerate time to market and reduce risk.
Another significant benefit is the property that RISC-V attracts talent. With manufacturers all pushing the boundaries of innovation, having the best and brightest on your team is key—and access to RISC-V just might make one business stand out above the other when it comes to where the next generation of engineers chooses to work.
Similarly, new companies entering the ecosystem will validate the value of the license-free embedded architecture and further expand the community—something that can only bring positives for the businesses and the individuals who use the architecture.
Artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and machine learning are ever more commonplace in everyday devices – and the ability to create custom processors capable of handling the performance and power requirements of these newer and mightier workloads is essential.
According to research firm Semico, the demand for these technologies is driving up the usage of this innovative architecture. The company predicts that the number of chips that include at least some RISC-V technology will grow 73.6 percent annually through 2027.
For the engineers and developers, RISC-V provides greater flexibility to customize processors through an ISA that natively supports extensions. This allows designs to uniquely align their solution with the device requirements and stay within the RISC-V definition—no matter what application, performance, or power requirements the chipset needs to meet.
At the same time, when new RISC-V-compatible architecture is developed, it allows engineers to access the technical advantages of platforms entering the RISC-V community while still using tools and processes they’re familiar with. Entering this community brings its own benefits by adding to a growing set of shared tools and development resources within the community.
Looking to the future
With the never-before-seen freedom that its design brings, RISC-V is already enabling unprecedented innovation in embedded design. From IoT devices and wearables to supercomputers and data centers, new hardware, software, and processors built for this open-source ISA are arriving on the market regularly. This only paves the way for the future of innovation across the full spectrum of computing.
Manufacturers and developers are continuing to embrace RISC-V and recognize its numerous benefits. As this community of like-minded people and organizations grows, we can expect a tidal wave of applications built using this flexible and scalable architecture in the near future. The excitement around this architecture is well-founded.
While being free is a huge draw for these developers and manufacturers, the real advantage of RISC-V is the freedom it brings with it. As RISC-V ushers in a new wave of collaboration in the silicon sector, industry-wide adoption might be just around the corner.