RISC-V revolution: Synopsys adds new products as momentum builds

The RISC-V open-standard instruction set architecture (ISA) has been around for more than a decade, but in just the last few months there has been an undeniable momentum build-up around the ISA, with Qualcomm, Google, and Intel, among others making RISC-V related moves and positive comments.

This week’s Synopsys joined the party with the news that it soon will offer three new ARC-V processor designs that leverage RISC-V. The new Synopsys RISC-V-based ARC-V processors, which include the 32-bit Synopsys ARC-V RMX embedded processor IP, which is scheduled to be available in the second quarter of 2024; and the 32-bit ARC-V RHX real-time processor IP and 64-bit ARC-V RPX host processor IP, which are scheduled to be available in the second half of 2024.

The RMX family is built for ultra-low-power applications, such as IoT and smart devices, while the RHX is aimed at real-time workloads running across multiple cores, and the RPX is likely to be featured in devices like digital TVs and set-top boxes running embedded Linux. All three also support automotive safety certifications, such as the ISO 21434 cybersecurity certification, opening them up for broad deployment in the automotive sector, which has been a key growth market for Synopsys and so many other companies.

“The increasing numbers of chips in automotive systems demand resilience in the semiconductor ecosystem, and to that end the industry is pushing for the adoption of open standards like RISC-V,” said Thomas Boehm, senior vice president, Automotive Microcontroller at Infineon, in a statement provided by Synopsys. “By developing safety-certified RISC-V based processor IP, Synopsys is supporting us to expand the architecture choices with an open standard to build high-performance automotive systems with the highest levels of functional safety, and we look forward to continuing to partner with them in our future products.” 

Matt Gutierrez, group director, marketing, processor and security IP & tools at Synopsys, told Fierce Electronics that the value of ISAs lies in how much ecosystem support they have behind them, and noted that support is rallying around RISC-V now similar to how it has been building over time around the ARC ISA, which Synopsys gained through its Virage acquisition back in 2010.

“We have all this expertise that we've kind of built up over the years implementing our ARC IP, and we're kind of applying now to the ARC-V ISA,” he said. “What we also want to leverage is the huge momentum that we see around the RISC-V ecosystem. A processor is only worth anything if there is a software ecosystem built around it.”

Gutierrez added, “There's a tremendous amount of overlap by the way between what we already have for ARC as an ecosystem and what the RISC-V ecosystem has, and we see the momentum building around RISC-V, and we so we think that combination of our ecosystem and the growing rapidly growing RISC-V ecosystem will give our customers a lot more choices when it comes to how they want to implement and how they want to program their SoCs.”

Ultimately, customer desire for choice–both in terms of who they buy processors from and the level of customization they can have–has hit home with chip companies, creating a “snowball effect” or more firms embracing RISC-V one after another, Gutierrez said. 

At the same time, these companies see RISC-V not as one ISA to rule them all, but one that will sit alongside different processor designs in a heterogeneous SoC environment. “There have been other open standard ISAs before, but this is the one that's gained the most momentum and the most credibility,” Gutierrez said. “I don't think anybody has any illusion that RISC-V is going to just take over the whole market. There are a lot of different SOCs that are heterogeneous and that have multiple processors and multiple processor ISAs. But, I think all of this adoption is because customers want to have choices.”