RISC-V architecture is the key to self-research

 Core tips:

  1. The reason why the domestic chip industry has high hopes for the RISC-V architecture is largely due to the US's neck-stuck incident against Huawei, which makes us realize that the chip must be independently developed to get rid of the dependence on foreign technology. The open source feature of RISC-V is regarded by the industry as a technical direction that can bypass Western monopoly.
  2. Meng Jianyi, vice president of Pingtouge, told Phoenix Network Technology that with the advent of the AIoT era, there has been a demand for customization of chips, and this fragmented demand is easier to be processed by low-power, customizable RISC-V (RISC-V processor) has made significant progress and has great potential for development.
  3. RISC-V brings hope for the domestic breakthrough of chip monopoly, but it cannot be blindly optimistic. It still has many risks and technical challenges. Semiconductor expert Zhang Guobin pointed out that the open-source of RISC-V is free, but the industry believes that it is not completely free, and the risk cost of developing chips based on the RISC-V open-source architecture cannot be ignored. In addition, many interfaces are currently incompatible with RISC-V, and the ecosystem is not perfect.

"China's core should take the third way."

On August 24, Academician Ni Guangnan said in his speech at the 2022 RISC-V China Summit: At present, the mainstream CPU market is still monopolized by the X86 and ARM architectures, but the emerging open source instruction set RISC-V will provide new opportunities for the development of my country's chip industry. If you seize the opportunity, it is possible to take the initiative in CPU core technology.

RISC-V, born in 2010, is an open-source architecture based on the reduced instruction set (RISC) principle. It is the largest CPU architecture outside the ARM and x86 architectures and is also one of the main architectures for domestic independent research and development chips.

At a time when geopolitics affects the global economy, the importance of chip autonomy is self-evident. This month, U.S. President Biden officially signed the "Chip and Science Act 2022" undefined, which clearly stipulates that companies receiving U.S. subsidies shall not conduct any major transactions with China or other countries that worry the United States within ten years. The market is concerned about RISC-V increasing again.

The speech of Academician Ni Guangnan not only strengthened the confidence in the independent research and development of the chip industry but also triggered a certain discussion.

RISC-V architecture, why can it compete with ARM / X86? What is the status of China's RISC-V industry? Will it be the key technical direction of China's chip independence? With these questions, Fenghuangwang Technology interviewed Meng Jianyi, vice president of Pingtouge, and Zhang Guobin, founder of Electronic Innovation Network and semiconductor expert.

How can RISC-V compete with ARM / X86?

In the current chip market, there are four mainstream instruction sets, X86, MIPS, ARM, and RISC-V, which are also commonly referred to as chip architectures. The instruction set/architecture is a series of specification languages ​​stored inside the processor (chip) to direct it to run computations, including various complex algorithms.

Simply put, the advanced or not of the instruction set/architecture is directly related to CPU performance.

Academician Ni Guangnan is optimistic about RISC-V, which is an open-source architecture based on the principle of the reduced instruction set (RISC). Different from the private instruction set architecture of foreign commercial companies such as x86 and ARM, the biggest feature of RISC-V is "open standardization", which allows anyone to design and manufacture chips, royalty-free.

This means that any company can use RISC-V without worrying about the risk of "cutting supply". Therefore, it was once regarded as my country's hope of realizing chip independence.

RISC-V has the characteristics of simple architecture and pattern design. For example, the RISC-V basic instruction set RV32I has only 47 instructions, while the x86 instruction set has exceeded 1400, and the ARM instruction set has increased to 1200. At the same time, X86 and ARM will increase two per month, while RISC-V will not increase, which can reduce the chip area and energy consumption of the processor.

Since the RV32I instruction set is fixed, compiler writers, and language programmers have stable goals, and they can organize different parts together through a modular design. In other words, RISC-V does not have the compatibility burden of the X86 / ARM instruction set, and can better meet the needs of subdivision scenarios.

The characteristics of RISC-V have enabled it to rapidly rise around the world and become the focus of innovation in emerging applications such as semiconductors and the Internet of Things. In recent years, RISC-V has been more active in industrial control and Internet of Vehicles applications, especially in the end-side RISC-V architecture IP covering security chips, AIoT, and other application scenarios, which used to be dominated by Arm.

Meng Jianyi, vice president of Pingtouge, told Phoenix Network Technology that with the advent of the AIoT era, more and more smart devices have emerged, which has led to the need for the customization of chips. Customizable RISC-V processors meet, so significant progress has been made, and the development potential is huge.

At the industry level, the RISC-V Foundation has attracted a large number of manufacturers to join, including NVIDIA, Google, Western Digital, Qualcomm, Samsung, Huawei HiSilicon, etc., with more than 3,100 members. At present, there are already 10 billion RISC-V cores on the market, and RISC-V only took 12 years to record more data than AER's data in the same period; in 2021, there will be more than 160 processor cores for various fields, penetrating into various industries.

RISC-V is the key solution for China's chip self-development

The reason why the domestic chip industry has high hopes for RISC-V is largely due to the US's neck-stuck incident against Huawei, which makes us realize that chips must be independently developed to get rid of the dependence on foreign technology. The open source feature of RISC-V is regarded by the industry as a technical direction that can bypass Western monopoly.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce banned ZTE from selling components and commodities, resulting in a shortage of chips for the latter; in 2019, after the U.S. imposed chip sanctions on Huawei, domestic chip companies worried about the risks of cooperation with ARM and joined the RISC-V camp one after another.

At the same time, domestic government policies, industrial research, and other aspects have coordinated to promote the accelerated development of the RISC-V architecture. In 2018, the Shanghai Municipal Government issued a policy to support software and integrated circuits, which clearly mentioned "support for the R&D and industrialization of processor chips based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture, 32-bit and above".

In the same year, Ni Guangnan established the China RISC-V Industry Alliance with domestic industry insiders. Subsequently, under the leadership of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the China Open Command Ecosystem (RISC-V) Alliance was established. The establishment of the two alliances was originally intended to promote the improvement of the RISC-V ecosystem in China.

At present, more than 80% of the highest-level members of the RISC-V Council are Chinese companies, and more than 70% of the main members of RISC-V are from China, including Alibaba, Huawei, SMIC, UNISOC, Crystal Morning, VeriSilicon, etc. As of this year, the application scale of RISC-V processors in IoT has exceeded 10 billion, and the shipments of Chinese companies accounted for 50%.

The contribution of Chinese enterprises to RISC-V technology and application is also increasing. On August 24, Alibaba Pingtou released the first high-performance RISC-V chip design platform Wujian 600, bringing RISC-V from 1GHz frequency performance to 2GHz commercial performance level; at the end of last year, Huawei HiSilicon official website announced a new high-definition The TV chip Hi373V110 has a built-in CPU of HiSilicon's self-developed RISC-V architecture; in addition, ZTE and VeriSilicon are also accelerating their self-developed products based on the RISC-V architecture.

Many experts believe that RISC-V architecture is a rare opportunity for Chinese enterprises because RISC-V started late, the gap between domestic and foreign is not as big as the traditional X86 architecture field, and there is a certain space to catch up.

Semiconductor expert Zhang Guobin revealed that although the ARM/X86 architecture is still the mainstream of the CPU market, RISC-V has become a key project for many car companies and technology companies in order to seize the market opportunities such as the Internet of Things and AR intelligence in advance.

The RISC-V ecosystem is not mature enough and has patent risks

Although RISC-V brings hope for the domestic breakthrough of chip monopoly, it cannot be blindly optimistic. It still has many risks and technical challenges.

Semiconductor expert Zhang Guobin told us that there is a consensus in the industry that RISC-V is an open-source instruction set, but it is not completely free. For example, some companies will design a commercial CPU based on the RISC-V instruction set and then sell or license the CPU. In this sense, it is open source, not free.

At the same time, the risk cost of developing chips based on the RISC-V architecture cannot be ignored. RISC-V is open source and available, which means that there is no "after-sales" service, and problems with this architecture may require you to explore solutions yourself. In the highly specialized field of chip design, it may take more cost and time to deal with the problem.

RISC-V is currently in the development stage, and many interfaces are currently incompatible with RISC-V, which also hinders its development. Meng Jianyi pointed out that ARM has built a more complete software and hardware ecosystem and formed a reliable business cycle. There is still a long way to go before RISC-V develops to the maturity of ARM.

Zhang Guobin said that it took ARM more than ten years to establish a mature ecosystem in China. The starting point of RISC-V is relatively high, and the domestic response time may be shortened, at least three to five years. "The market penetration is not so fast, and there are not many mass-produced chips based on RISC-V, and there are no general-purpose chips."

In addition, compared to X86 and ARM, the development of RISC-V in the field of high-performance computing is still insufficient.

Torbj√∂rn Granlund, the developer of the GMP library, once pointed out that the RISC-V instruction set is too simple and fragmented, causing most of its application scenarios to be embedded. In terms of high-performance processors, RISC-V chip products are mostly 32. From a practical point of view, RISC-V will continue to evolve towards high performance, and it will take a long time for the high-end “emergence” to be tempered.

Meng Jianyi said that the mass production of high-performance RISC-V chips requires advanced technology and tests the ability of the entire chip design, especially in the balance of performance and power consumption, which requires a lot of R&D effort.

Finally, the rise of RISC-V also requires the outbreak of new industries.

In the field of computer processors and mobile phone processors, the X86 / ARM ecosystem is already quite mature, and RISC-V trying to compete for market share is tantamount to "taking food from a tiger's mouth". In the fields of Internet of Things, security chips, smart wear, etc., the market cornerstone of Arm is not stable, and there are more opportunities for RISC-V.

Post a Comment

0 Comments