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Introduction to RISC-V(3)RISC-V Processor Prospects and CPU Development in China

1. The prospect of RISC-V processors


Related reference articles:

RISC-V teaching plan


In the last article Introduction to RISC-V (2) Characteristics and classification of RISC-V instruction set The characteristics and classification of the RISC-V instruction set are briefly summarized. This article will discuss the prospect of RISC-V processors and the development status of China’s CPUs from a macro perspective. You are also welcome to leave valuable suggestions in the comment area.

The development background of RISC-V is mentioned in the introduction to RISC-V (1) Origin of RISC-V before determining its status in higher education. It can be found on the RISC-V Foundation website that many well-known universities have cooperative courses with it, such as MIT, York University, Tsinghua University, University of Rochester, University of Cambridge, etc. This is because the development of RISC-V began with the research of Professor Krste Asanovic of the University of Berkeley, and RISC-V is completely open-source, suitable for teaching, and also conducive to students’ practice and mastery. India also lists the RISC-V instruction set as a national instruction set. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was one of the early sponsors to support the development of the RISC-V Foundation. In China, Shanghai became the first city in China to list RISC-V as a target of government support (2018). In January 2020, the China Open Command Ecosystem (RISC-V) Alliance held a meeting in Wuhan, Hubei, and established the Wuhan RISC-V Industry-University-Research Base and the Hubei RISC-V Industry-University-Research Base.

Many technology companies are also very optimistic about RISC-V. Companies such as Google, Oracle, Microsoft, Huawei, IBM, and others have joined the RISC-V Foundation. Founded by the three original developers of RISC-V, SiFive is the first company in the world to produce chips that implement the RISC-V architecture. In 2018, a limited-edition computer board from SiFive quickly sold out. A single board was offered by a crowdfunding site for $999, so sales totaled $143,700. The following month, Western Digital announced a partnership agreement with SiFive and became an investor. SiFive currently ships about 1 billion cores to Western digital each year. Samsung, NVIDIA, and AMD have also successively developed their free RISC-V processors for use in products. Pingtouge Semiconductor, a subsidiary of China’s Alibaba, and Huami Technology, a subsidiary of Xiaomi’s ecological chain, have also released RISC-V-related products after 2018.

The RISC-V Foundation has now moved to Switzerland to set up a nonprofit to avoid being constrained by U.S. trade rules. Due to the support, maintenance, and development of the foundation, the ecology of RISC-V have been well developed, and the supporting development has become increasingly mature. The 64-bit multi-core architecture developed by SiFive has been benchmarked against or surpassed the CPU architecture of the ARM cortex-A series in terms of performance and power area. However, ARM has developed in the mobile phone industry for many years and has formed a perfect business ecosystem. RISC-V is difficult to surpass and replace in a short period of time. In other areas, RISC-V has slowly eroded the market.


2. Current status of CPU development in China

CPUs in China are mainly divided into the following series:

  1. The MIPS series was first developed by the United States and authorized by China
    1. Loongson: MIPS authorized, Loongson 3B is a domestic 8-core processor, clocked at 1G to support vector operations, and currently has a leading position in domestic CPUs.
    2. Junzheng: MIPS authorized, embedded CPU, good performance in smart wear, and the Internet of Things. However, due to the high licensing fee, there is no price advantage in small and medium batches.
  2. The licensing fee for the X86 series is high, and the following are the companies that have licensed the X86
    1. Zhaoxin launched the KX-6000 (Kai Xian) series of processors in 2019, with a 16nm process, up to 8 cores, and a maximum speed of 3 GHz. Performance is comparable to 2016’s 7th Gen Intel i5 Core processors (aka Core i5-7400). The plan for 2021 is to take the process to 7nm and support DDR5 and PCIe 4.0.
    2. Tianjin Haiguang, established two new joint ventures with AMD. AMD authorized IP and was responsible for chip production; Tianjin Haiguang was responsible for chip design and sales. In fact, Tianjin Haiguang is only licensed for a castrated version of the Zen architecture. The CPU of the Zen architecture is Ryzen. Currently AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X is one of the top CPUs in 2020, with 6 cores/12 threads, a base frequency of 4.1 GHz, and support for PCIe 4.0.
  3. Power series (IBM PowerPC), now open source, but no off-the-shelf IP core can be used
    1. Suzhou Guoxin, the C9000 based on the PowerPC instruction set, is a superscalar processor with out-of-order 4-issue and 9-stage pipeline.
  4. Alpha series (multiple CPUs work together, cloud computing)
    1. Shenwei: Sunway TaihuLight’s supercomputer is based on Shenwei’s 26010 processor. The peak performance of this many-core processor is 1.254 billion times per second.
  5. ARM series, external development architecture authorization and IP core authorization
    1. National Defense Science and Technology University-Feiteng: Performance and computing power surpass. The kernel is based on the ARMv8 instruction set and is self-developed.
    2. Huawei Hisilicon: Numerous chip series: Hi35XX, ATLASXX
    3. Spreadtrum: Mobile ARM CPUs
    4. Huaxintong: ARMv8-A

It can be seen that China’s self-developed CPU has long been realized, but the real problem is the lack of instruction set architecture. At present, the mainstream ARM/X86 is in the hands of European and American commercial companies, and China is controlled by others at the level of instruction set architecture. RISC-V is an opportunity for China to truly realize a universal and domestically produced processor core. RISC-V currently has the strength of ARM in the field of deep embedding and low-power IoT.


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Posted in FPGA, IC, RISC-V, RISC-V Textbook

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