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RISC-V CTO: We won't dictate chip design like Arm and x86

Mark Himelstein talks about the open ISA's future and challenges

www.theregister.com, Jan. 04, 2022 – 

Chip technologies from Arm and x86 are getting the most attention amid semiconductor shortages and trade wars. But in the background, the open-source RISC-V chip architecture is stealthily emerging as a viable third architecture that is cheaper, flexible, and free of political intrigue.

RISC-V is often referred to as the Linux of chips with engineers collaborating to design, set, and improve the architecture. RISC-V International sets the spec, which is free to license, and chip designers are free to implement it as they see fit in their processors and system-on-chips.

China and Europe are moving to RISC-V for homegrown silicon to achieve chip sovereignty. Companies are also looking at RISC-V to cut licensing and royalty costs associated with the Arm and x86 architectures.

To be sure, it may be many years until RISC-V emerges as a viable alternative to x86 and Arm in PCs, servers, and mobile phones. But it is off to a good start in microcontrollers and FPGAs, and single-board computers with RISC-V are already available. It also has the backing of companies including Google, Apple, Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Nvidia.

RISC-V International's CTO Mark Himelstein spoke with The Register about RISC-V and its progress.

How is RISC-V catching along?

People are doing things that they couldn't with other architectures before RISC-V. It's free. It's flexible. They don't have to pay anybody extra money to customize it. We take advantage of the community and stuff that's very common. We break down corporate barriers, country barriers, cultural barriers, time-zone barriers, and we all share that piece because we are part of this community.

You can innovate in a particular area where we allow for non-standard extensions. It's kind of the best of both worlds.

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