8 RISC-V Companies to Watch

These eight companies are developing their own RISC-V technologies and are committing to helping third parties do the same to help push adoption of the open-source chip architecture.
  • RISC-V (pronounced “risk five”), the open-source architecture for chip design, has been making a lot of noise in the past few years. The open source nature of RISC-V promises to enable companies to create custom chip hardware specifically tailored to their products and devices.

    Now, thanks much in part to the efforts of the RISC-V Foundation, an entire ecosystem of companies has sprung up, both of new startups and established chip and hardware companies, dedicated to leveraging the potential of open chip hardware for a variety of applications.

     

    Who are the leaders of RISC-V of today and tomorrow? We've rounded up a list of eight of the top companies developing RISC-V technology and helping third parties in their own RISC-V efforts.

    Click the image above to start the slideshow.

     

    (Image source: Antmicro / SiFive)

  • 1.) Andes Technology

    Founded in 2005, Taiwan-based Andes Technology is a CPU vendor and one of the oldest companies now working in the RISC-V ecosystem. It established its RISC-V efforts in 2015. In March 2019 the company announced the debut of the 32-bit A25MP and 64-bit AX25MP (block diagram shown above), both RISC-V processors. The company wants to provide multicore RISC-V processors to enable high-level applications such as artificial intelligence and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

    The A25MP and AX25MP both support up to four CPU cores; provide efficient cache coherence among private level-1 caches; include an optional shared level-2 cache; and support I/O coherence for bus masters without caches. They also operate at over 1 GHz in a 28nm process with Linux symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support.

    Andres says its new RISC-V processor are designed to handle the digital signal processing demands of applications such as image classification, speech recognition, and face detection that have traditionally been too compute-intensive for RISC-V processors to handle.

    (Image source: Andes Technology)

  • 2.) Antmicro

    Swedish embedded technology company Antmicro is the creator of Renode, an open-source testing and development framework that lets RISC-V developers simulate physical hardware systems and components including the processor, peripherals, sensors, external environment, and wired and wireless connections.

    Renode is designed to boost adoption of RISC-V in real-world applications and guide engineers through the new challenges presented when building a RISC-V-based system by letting engineers explore different architectures quickly and with an open-source ecosystem of building blocks and structures provided by Antmicro as well as the wider developer community.

    (Image source: Antmicro)

  • 3.) Dover Microsystems

    Massachusetts-based Dover Microsystems calls itself “the first company to bring real security, privacy, and safety enforcement to silicon.” The company develops CoreGuard (block diagram shown above), a cybersecurity and safety solution for RISC-V processors. Open source brings some inherent and understandable security concerns and Dover is one of few companies addressing this by implementing security features into RISC-V processors.

    CoreGuard can be implemented into any RISC-V processor, allowing the embedded processor to defend against network-based cyberattacks, flawed security software, and safety violations in real time. It does this by using a hardware interlock that controls communications between the processor and the rest of the system. CoreGuard has built-in “micropolicies” that tell the processor the difference between good and bad instructions. Any communications between the processor and the rest of the system are checked by CoreGuard for validity before they are allowed to be executed.

    “It’s no secret that attacking the cybersecurity epidemic in the same old way is not working to keep our connected devices and systems safe,” Dover CEO and founder Jothy Rosenberg said in a December 2018 press statement. “Over the past 18 months, the industry has come to recognize that preventing an attacker’s ability to take over a processor in the first place is where IoT security must begin, By incorporating CoreGuard into processors in embedded systems, organizations across automotive, medical devices, and other connected industries can truly ensure they have the security, safety, and privacy needed to establish a foundation of IoT trust.”

    (Image source: Dover Microsystems)

  • 4.) Hex Five

    San Jose's Hex Five is the creator of MultiZone Security, what it calls the first trusted execution environment for RISC-V. MultiZone requires no additional hardware, dedicated cores, or programming models, and allows for policy-based, hardware-enforced separation for an unlimited number of security domains, with full control over data, code, interrupts, and peripherals. And since it's open source, like RISC-V, engineers can also implement open course libraries, third-party binaries, and even old legacy code into MultiZone as well. Hex Five also maintains an open source repository for MultiZone on GitHub.

    In February 2019, as part of a partnership with cryptography company wolfSSL, Hex Five released an industry-first secure Internet of Things (IoT) stack for RISC-V. The stack is designed to be implemented with FreeRTOS and to handle the security risks inherent in the embedded operating system.

    MultiZone allows engineers to isolate the firmware into an unlimited number of separate zones, essentially walling them off from one another in terms of security. According to Hex Five, the result of this is preventing shared memory attacks and other exploits from spreading throughout the system. Any exploit is confined into the zone in which it happens.

    (Image source: Hex Five)

  • 5.) Imperas

    UK-based Imperas is a virtual software simulation company that has recently branched out into RISC-V. In November 2018 the company released riscvOVPsim, a free RISC-V instruction set simulator to allow engineers to model and simulate single-core RISC-V CPUs. The simulator is targeted at both hardware and software engineers, and can be used as both an entry point to kickstart software development without the need for hardware in-hand as well as build and compliance testing on the hardware end. According to Imperas, riscvOVPsim can perform over 1 billion instructions per second on a standard Windows or Linux PC. It also has configurable runtime settings for all RISC-V specification options to make it easy to compare runtimes results with RTL implementation.

    riscvOVPsim is free and can be downloaded on GitHub, along with the latest RISC-V compliance test suite and framework. It includes a free-to-use license from Imperas that supports commercial as well as academic use. The open source model is licensed under the Apache 2.0 license.

    (Image source: Imperas)

  • 6.) Microsemi

    Microsemi – a subsidiary of Microchip Technology – is the producer of a line of RISC-V CPUs as well as FPGAs. The company's Mi-V RISC-V cores are available in its PolarFire line of RISC-V-based SoCs. The PolarFire SoC aims to be a low-power, flexible solution for embedded engineers looking to develop FPGA-based IoT devices. The company also supports its RISC-V hardware with a full suite of software products for developing, compiling, and debugging embedded firmware.

    (Image source: Microsemi)

  • 7.) SiFive

    San Mateo,CA-based startup SiFive is the oldest RISC-V company, as well as the company that put RISC-V on the map. Starting in 2015 the company released a number of RISC-V-based processor cores targeting almost every level of development from enthusiast to major manufacturer. In 2017 the company released the U54-MC Coreplex (block diagram shown above), the first RISC-V-based chip to support Linux, Unix, and FreeBSD.

    This year the company has expanded its portfolio with the release of the S2 Core IP Series, a 64-bit microcontroller for embedded architectures. SiFive says its goal with the S2 Series is to handle the processing demands of an ever-growing number of devices that are connected, handle real-time workloads, and utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning to varying degrees.

    (Image source: SiFive)

  • 8.) Western Digital

    It may be surprising to see a company best known for digital storage on this list. But Western Digital has gone all-in on RISC-V, so much so that in 2017 the company pledged to transition all of the over one billion processor cores it ships every year into RISC-V cores. The move is part of Western Digital's desire to shift from being thought of as less of a storage company and more of a data company.

    Western Digital has already released the SweRV core, which it says will be implemented into more and more of its products in the coming years. The SweRV is a 32-bit, two-way superscalar, nine-stage pipeline core built on a 28mm CMOS process technology and offers clock speeds of up to 1.8 Ghz. As of January 2019 Western Digital has fully open-sourced the SweRV core and released an instruction set simulator (ISS) to offer full testing support for SweRV and other RISC-V cores. The company's full open source library around SweRV is available on GitHub.

    (Image source: Western Digital)

 

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at   Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

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