Intel promises “substantial contributions” to the growth of RISC-V • The Register

Analysis Here’s something that would have seemed odd just a few years ago: to help fuel Intel’s future growth, the x86 giant has pledged to do what it can to make the open-source RISC-V ISA worthy of widespread adoption.

In a presentation, an Intel representative shared some details about how the chipmaker plans to contribute to RISC-V as part of its bet that the instruction set architecture will fuel the growth of its hardware business. revitalized contract chip manufacturing.

While Intel invested in RISC-V chip designer SiFive in 2018, the semiconductor titan’s intentions with RISC-V changed last year when it revealed that the key contract manufacturing company of its return, Intel Foundry Services, would be willing to make the chips compatible with x86. , Arm and RISC-V ISA. The chipmaker then announced in February that it had joined RISC-V International, the governing body of ISA, and launched a billion-dollar innovation fund that will support chip designers, including those who make RISC-V components.

How Intel plans to contribute to RISC-V

At RISC-V week in Paris this month, Gary Martz, senior director of RISC-V ecosystem enablement for Intel Foundry Services, said Intel plans to make additional “substantial contributions” system-on-chip architecture and software stack for RISC-V as part of its membership in RISC-V International.

“Our intention is that with these contributions and the innovation fund, we help create an ecosystem [that] will continue to fuel the growth of RISC-V and the adoption of RISC-V cores,” he said at the event.

Martz added that Intel will “help assess current shortcomings and provide resources to drive closure where we can help”, referring to the fact that RISC-V currently lacks many features found in x86 and Arm ISAs that are important to gain traction in markets such as PCs and servers.

On the SoC side, Martz said Intel will contribute in areas such as boot security, firmware resiliency, partitioning, isolation, virtualization and performance monitoring. He said the company’s contributions will also focus on fabric infrastructure for multi-core chip architectures, standard internals for various bus types, and early holistic solutions and interfaces.

A slide provided by Martz also mentions that Intel will seek to optimize SoC architecture features for specific segments, such as reliability, availability, and serviceability features in data centers; functional safety devices in vehicles; and mobile device power management features.

A slide showing some of the areas where Intel plans to make hardware contributions to the RISC-V instruction set architecture.

A slide showing some of the areas where Intel plans to make hardware contributions for RISC-V. Click to enlarge.

Regarding software, Martz said Intel will focus “on the core parts of the stack that need to be compatible across vendors.” Another slide provided by Martz shows various elements of the RISC-V software stack, ranging from compilers and optimizers to hypervisors and applications.

“RISC-V staff created this diagram and issued a call for contributions. We will respond to this call for contributions by, again, participating in hiring resources and applying those resources within this community to help fill in the gaps,” Martz said.

In making his contributions, Martz said Intel wants to “minimize fragmentation” in RISC-V, a significant issue that could hurt ISA adoption if there is too much variance in functionality between different fleas.

The way we see it: To be successful, the RISC-V ISA must be consistent and stable across platforms so that applications and software stacks can be widely deployed without having to circumvent chip idiosyncrasies; installing and running Linux, for example, on VR should be as easy as doing it on x86.

RISC-V International wants a “contributing culture”

Intel’s planned contributions align with the “contributor culture” that RISC-V International hopes to cultivate, said the governing body’s CTO, Mark Himelstein, at an earlier RISC-V Week talk.

This means that rather than relying on individuals contributing to the ISA in their spare time, RISC-V International hopes that companies will increasingly invest more human resources in RISC-V, in the same way that many between them now do this for Linux and other open systems. – source software projects.

A slide showing the various special interest groups working on different aspects of the RISC-V instruction set architecture.

A slide showing some of the various special interest groups working on different aspects of RISC-V. Click to enlarge

RISC-V International already has dozens, if not hundreds of corporate membersincluding Alibaba Cloud, Google, Western Digital, IBM, Nvidia, Samsung and more, though Himelstein said the nonprofit needs more companies volunteering their employees’ time.

“We want this not to be done by people paid by RISC-V International, but by people who are part of the community and are enthusiastic about doing it the same way they do it for Linux, Hadoop or Apache etc right away,” he said.

This is important because RISC-V International faces a staggering amount of work to develop much-needed features that will give RISC-V a fighting chance in markets like servers and PCs.

Himelstein said RISC-V International’s work on ISA now encompasses more than 70 groups and committees that focus on different software and hardware aspects of ongoing RISC-V.

“We need your voices at the table. It’s really, really important,” he said.

Knowledge of standards is probably a good thing for RISC-V

Given the need for standardization in RISC-V, Martz is an interesting person to lead Intel’s ecosystem enablement efforts for the ISA.

That’s because he said he’s been involved in several standards initiatives at Intel: representing the company in the Wi-Fi Alliance, creating a consumer Internet of Things standards organization, and most recently , lead a standardization group for industrial IoT.

“I’m supposed to help identify friction in the market, do things to remove that friction, allow the market to grow quickly, sockets proliferate, and then my buddies on the sales side will fight over sockets,” he said. he said during his RISC-V Weekly Conference.

Martz said the focus of his RISC-V enabling work at Intel Foundry Services is a little different, though very standards-driven.

“We want sockets to proliferate, but then we want to build silicon for the ecosystem that’s going to compete to populate those sockets,” he said.

Ultimately, Intel hopes to create new business opportunities for Intel Foundry Services, which will essentially manufacture RISC-V chips for anyone who asks and can pay.

Given that RISC-V Global CEO Calista Redmond recently told us that she sees companies like Intel as critical to the future success of ISA, it seems that Intel and RISC-V have entered into a relationship. symbiotic. ®

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