RISC-V speaks on options after Nvidia-Arm news

Article By : Nitin Dahad

As the embedded industry digests the implications of the proposed acquisition of Arm by Nvidia, RISC-V International, the organization supporting the adoption of RISC-V, has been quick to highlight the options ahead...

As the embedded industry digests the implications of the proposed acquisition of Arm by Nvidia, while the big licensees have so far remained tight-lipped in talking publicly about their thoughts, RISC-V International, the organization supporting the adoption of RISC-V, has been quick to highlight the options ahead.

risc-v calista redmond
Calista Redmond

In a statement entitled, “RISC-V, Catalyst for Change”, the RISC-V International CEO, Calista Redmond, said, “Today, many people are wondering whether companies will be investing more heavily in RISC-V as a result of our open model for licensing and collaboration or due to the potential limits placed by companies or nations on proprietary architectures. RISC-V is free and open so no single entity controls the technology. Companies, academia and institutions have freedom to innovate on the architecture and collectively can help to shape this rapidly evolving frontier of computing.”

This looks like a rallying call for RISC-V to be considered as an option for embedded systems developers. In my interview for EE Times with Patrick Little, the new president and CEO of SiFive, one of the leading evangelists for RISC-V given their founders also initiated the industry group, said, “Clearly Arm’s success stems from its neutrality, but with RISC-V being an open ISA, there is no threat of lockout.” He commented that this week’s news will have rattled a few cages in terms of how Arm’s neutrality would be maintained. “Most companies had been contemplating moving to an open ISA as part of an operational strategy. But now, companies are seriously looking at the move to an open ISA as a strategic imperative.”

In her statement, Redmond said, “Industry disruption holds the promise for all of us to take new approaches, engage with trusted partners, and solve complex challenges. With any disruption, there are discussions about the ripple effects on the industry.”

She continued, “Like any industry, choice and freedom are critical. Choice drives healthy competition and innovation, while creating balanced relationships with innovation partners, suppliers, and customers. RISC-V stakeholders have choices too and our community is made up of organizations across the silicon industry who have invested in multiple architectures. We anticipate that our member companies will continue to rely on legacy architectures for certain product lines, while also looking to RISC-V to meet the increasingly complex workload requirements of next generation applications. After all, change doesn’t happen overnight, and companies have already invested heavily in existing product lines and architectures with a commitment to those products. However, with each generation of technology, we see companies taking a deeper look at available architectures and are honored that RISC-V is a formidable option.”

Patrick Little SiFive CEO
Patrick Little

The point she makes is important. It won’t be easy for those heavily invested in existing architectures with their entire toolchains and support ecosystems to change, and for some it may actually be necessary to embrace multiple architectures, since many systems on chip (SoCs) do already in fact and have been for years incorporating heterogenous architectures.

In fact, SiFive’s Little made this point too. He said, “There are many times you do need Arm’s ecosystem, but where customers want targeted differentiation, that’s where we add value. On many occasions we sit side-by-side with Arm in a system on chip. We’ve been in a lot of designs together and that will continue.”

Redmond said, “There is already a critical mass of more than 200 companies adopting RISC-V and actively contributing to the ecosystem from 50 countries, and that interest and investment in RISC-V will continue to grow from here. Many companies will look more closely at RISC-V for next generation designs, if they aren’t already. RISC-V is a great way for organizations to diversify their product portfolios, and it also offers a number of design advantages. The simple and extensible design of RISC-V makes it ideal for cutting-edge AI, automotive, cloud, edge computing, IoT, machine learning, mobile and 5G applications.”

And she concluded, “We’re working hard to build out a robust and invested community across industries, domains, stakeholders and geographies. RISC-V has committed to offering more development support through our 37 technical work groups, hundreds of tools and resources, visibility programs, training partners, dozens of university curriculum components and more to enable RISC-V designs, industry workloads, operating systems, hardware implementations and development tools to scale faster.”

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