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Telink and the RISC-V ISA

Telink Staff

March 16, 2020

Technology

Visualization of circuit board

The RISC-V open-source ISA will shake up product development across multiple industries. Developers and key business decision-makers need to start paying attention.

The RISC-V open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) has been making headlines across the tech industry. As a growing list of major hardware manufacturers seriously consider — and even commit to — developing new products using RISC-V chips, onlookers are starting to wonder what makes this ISA so special, and are questioning how its emergence will affect their line of work.

As such, it has become essential for stakeholders across the tech industry to seriously consider RISC-V’s role in the market and develop an understanding of why it’s garnering so much attention.

Understanding ISAs

At the highest level, an ISA can be understood as the machine language a processor uses to interpret and execute instructions that are sent from an operating system. In other words, it’s an abstraction of a computer and a fundamental component of microprocessing.

As of now, there are two primary ISAs that account for a majority of the ISA market. The x86 core for Intel processors is part of the complex instruction set computing (CISC) architecture. It is capable of performing incredibly complex computing tasks in hardware with significant processing demands (think: data centers). Conversely, ARM cores are part of the reduced instruction set computing (RISC) family, meaning they are designed with simpler instructions. This makes them ideal for specialized, low-intensity processing products (think: IoT devices).

Both ARM and Intel x86 are proprietary ISAs, so companies must purchase potentially costly licenses if they are to use these ISAs in their products. As such, RISC-V’s open-source core is highly appealing insofar as it eliminates some of the costs that companies have previously had to accept when developing their products.

But cost reductions are not the only benefit of RISC-V. Open-source code means that anyone can audit the internal workings of the RISC-V ISA. With full access to an ISA’s design, developers can drastically improve their hardware production. In the proprietary market, this is a luxury that only a select few companies can afford.

Who Should Care About RISC-V — and Why

RISC-V is a game-changer in the ISA space, which means its emergence affects a range of people working across device manufacturing, system architecture, electronics design, and software development.

Among these stakeholders, developers arguably stand to gain the most from RISC-V’s granular features. RISC-V’s open-source core gives developers more flexibility at the product development stage. Developers working with application-specific integrated circuits or with custom peripherals will benefit from understanding the inner workings of their cores. RISC-V also offers a wide range of options for adding special configurations, enabling better customization from the physical layer all the way to the application layer.

Business decision-makers stand to benefit from selecting RISC-V chips, as well. For example, when they are planning their product lines and evaluating their bottom lines, they will often find that RISC-V’s license-free open design offers a better value on a per-core basis. What’s more, the open-source core allows companies to port code from one RISC-V platform into any other RISC-V platform, enabling business decision-makers to make plans without worrying about previous investments turning into sunk costs.

Ultimately, by paying attention to the ongoing development of RISC-V, businesses can make more informed choices about how to focus their efforts, direct their resources more strategically, and evaluate their risks with more panoramic industry-awareness. This all trickles down into how businesses fundamentally view their products and endeavors.

Telink’s Embrace of RISC-V

At Telink, we couldn’t be more excited about the future of RISC-V. Our mission has always been to bring reliable, highly-performant, and innovative solutions for the IoT to market. By embracing RISC-V, we’re taking an open, community-based approach to this goal.

As of June 2019, Version 2.2 of the RISC-V user-space ISA and Version 1.11 of the RISC-V privileged ISA are frozen, meaning real-world software and hardware development can proceed full steam ahead.

RISC-V’s future is now.

Read our white paper to learn more about RISC-V, the history of open-source technologies, and how RISC-V can benefit your business.