ARM and x86 are the common names that come up when you’re talking about computer hardware. These architectures have been around for decades and power some of the strong and robust CPUs in the market. But recently, a new challenger has emerged in the field of microprocessor architecture: the RISC-V chipsets.
With the steady progress, RISC-V could soon be powering some of the powerful devices in the future. More importantly, the RISC-V chipsets can even be run on as many cores as the x86 and ARM chipsets in a couple of years. But what exactly is RISC-V, and why are chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm investing in it?
What is RISC-V?
After Apple shifted fully to its own silicon, there have been a lot of discussions regarding the ARM and x86. For those unaware, ARM and x86 are two types of microprocessor architecture or Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). ISA is the first step of a CPU design, whether it’s RISC-V, x86, or ARM.
In simple terms, ISA determines all the kinds of instructions that chip designers can add to the processor. It also determines what kind of software the chipset can handle and how good the performance will be. And as you may have guessed, RISC-V is another kind of ISA.
But it is different from the x86 and ARM, two architectures that have been dominating the market for quite a while. Wondering what makes it stand out? Unlike the other two, RISC-V brings the element of open source to the table. For ARM and x86 architecture, designers aren’t free to use the fundamental design.
On the other hand, RISC-V opens that door and allows the designers to adapt the chipset according to their needs. What’s more, the open-source architecture is based on the RISC architecture. And if you don’t know, RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer Architecture.
That means RISC-V comes with very few instructions in its very basic form. And that, when combined with open standards, means that any company can freely use the stock instruction set and modify them. Eventually, this will result in efficient custom microprocessor designs.
This model of RISC-V ensures that the foundations of the architecture are always available for free. But isn’t that bad news for manufacturers? Well, the products that are based on the free architecture can still be licensed. Manufacturers can even sell these products as ready-made cores.
What Are the Benefits of RISC-V Chipsets?
Now, as some of the biggest players in the industry are turning their heads to RISC-V, it must have some benefits, right? Yes, the architecture addresses some of the shortcomings of the ARM and x86 architecture. Here’s a brief description of some of the advantages that the relatively young and emerging architecture:
RISC-V Brings Open Standard
RISC-V architecture is completely open. This means the companies don’t have to pay licensing fees to anyone in order to use the basic architecture. As a result, the architecture makes it easier for smaller companies to develop their cores based on it.
As for the biggest players, RISC-V architecture will make it possible to develop cores faster. After all, they don’t need to spend time and negotiate licensing deals with anyone.
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Ease of Modifications
As mentioned earlier, RISC-V is based on the RISC architecture. The architecture is easy to modify as the instruction set is already reduced. Now, as manufacturers don’t need to invest time and effort into modifications, they can create custom cores cheaper and faster. This could eventually impact the cost of consumer products.
RISC-V Focuses on Energy Efficiency and Modularity
Because RISC-V cores operate on RISC architecture and are easy to modify, they are easy to specialize and scale down. Manufacturers can easily tailor products based on it to do specific tasks. This allows the processors on this architecture to do the same tasks as general-purpose models with a fraction of the power needed. Also, this will make the tailored processor attain a much smaller footprint.
Open Source Security
The fact that the RISC-V is an open standard makes it attain higher security. After all, it’s open to public scrutiny. The standard is easily accessible, and anyone can scrutinize it closely. And there are no limitations on how much you can scrutinize, making it easier to detect all the back doors and hidden channels if there are any.
RISC-V Has a Common ISA
Different designers can use the same basic architecture of RISC-V to create different processors and cores. That ranges from big supercomputers to small embedded solutions. This will eventually make the software development process easier and faster. All the software developed for this standard should run natively across different devices powered by the architecture.
How Will RISC-V Chipsets Change the Next-Gen Wearables?
It goes without saying that RISC-V brings some significant benefits to the microprocessor space. And if it delivers all of its promises, it can bring a major shift in the market, especially in wearable tech. But why wearables?
The thing is, the biggest issue in the wearable industry is the size. Considering how small these devices are, they demand small-sized SoCs. And we’re already seeing smart rings roll out in the market. RISC-V chipsets can make these tiny devices do more than what they can do right now.
Manufacturers can develop the RISC-V cores with wearable tech in mind. These cores can be specialized to do exactly what the wearable product is intended to do. This could make the small devices more energy efficient and, most importantly, faster than now.