News RISC-V Evolving to Address Supercomputers and AI

Jun 14, 2021
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Intel making a bid to buy SiFive might be good for the two of them, but I can't help but wonder how it will be good for RISC-V? SiFive has already publicly prototyped 5nm RISC-V chips via TSMC (also see: https://www.tomshardware.com/news/openfive-tapes-out-5nm-risc-v-soc ). Meanwhile, Micro Magic has demonstrated a 5GHz RISC-V chip operating at 1W last year. It's pretty obvious what RISC-V's wins are, with Linux, FreeBSD and most recently OpenBSD ports already in the works. it's less obvious to me if Intel can do much more than throw a lot of money behind it, and given their reputation, as well as swaths of paid off industry shills, is that a good thing?

Personally, I am probably most excited by the GaNext Project which is looking to implement RISC-V in Gallium Nitride. Remember when Cray was already iterating GaA (Gallium Arsenide) in the 1980s? That consumer targeted computing is still languishing in the realms of silicon decades later is IMHO, beyond pathetic and the inefficiencies intrinsic to silicon designs in use, particularly relative to the abuse of cryptocurrency miners, have real world global climate change impacts which are empirically measurable with horrific ramifications and such designs and abuses of hardware for short term predatory profits should continually be shunned. Meanwhile, DOD/military affiliated contract designers I know have already released 10+GHz RAM designs to complement presumably as fast or faster CPUs > decade ago. Not that such things are public knowledge to most I guess?

Per grlegters' comment, while RISC-V is an open freely licensed CPU ISA, others have already implemented custom extensions to it which might be closer to your "Increased Instruction Set Computing" but the core remains reduced, not entirely dissimilar to commercial derivatives of BSD derived codebases (e.g. something such as EMC/Isilon and their OneFS relative to FreeBSD which is the upstream, or Apple and macOS with again, large parts of FreeBSD and some smaller security focused pieces of OpenBSD as their upstream codebases, the upstreams remaining more versatile and with fewer after market gee-whiz features if perhaps less user friendly than the commercial focused derivations). Subsequently, I think RISC-V remaining RISC and reduced in nature, is ideal as it makes derivative works closer to trivial and with already extent parallels in the software world. We've already seen Troy Benjegerdes re-implement the SiFive Unleashed PCB using KiCad thanks to its simple and open nature.

After all, RISC-V doesn't even specify an FPU (and really, with unum/posits as an alternative to IEEE-754 floating points, why would a cutting edge CPU ISA attempt to drag an obsolete 20th century design into the 21st century that should have been ditched a while ago?). Other examples of extensions such as BOOM and derivatives are commonplace. MIT has also released xv6 to replace its Lion's Commentary on Unix inspired curricula to being updated to a RISC-V based toolchain, so it's pretty clear what the engineers of the future are being trained on as well.

Characterizing RISC-V as merely for microcontrollers seems to me, to be doing it a grave disservice.

While it is great that it will be replacing a lot of embedded systems such as SiFive's HiFive1 as an Arduino drop in replacement as well such as Western Digital's SweRV seem promising, that is far from the whole story and ignores the OS developer targeted systems such as the SiFive Unleashed, Unmatched and more recently the BeagleV as a RISC-V based system filling something closer to the Raspberry Pi niche. Meanwhile, for FPGA folks, if you haven't seen how Olof Kindgren has already crammed > 5000 SERV (his own serial RISC-V implementation) RISC-V cores into an FPGA devkit, I wonder if you even really pay attention to researchers in the field? Dr. Andrew "bunnie" Huang of Hacking the Xbox notoriety hardened handheld Precursor project due out next year is also RISC-V soft-CPU based (being prototyped in FPGA). Even Nvidia has been quite public for years now, that their next generation GPU designs will be using 64bit RISC-V cores, whereas their existing GPUs have been based around 32bit ARM cores (which is presumably why Nvidia has been eager to acquire ARM from SoftBank, because unlike Apple, Nvidia did not have a perpetual license for that CPU ISA).

The present and future looks brighter and brighter for RISC-V, while I've read that Intel has plans to fab their own RISC-V chips, a SiFive acquisition to me, reads more like an act of desperation from a company that has been "too big to fail". Its Itanium floundering was infamous and even in a dystopia where people often fixate on the negative, it seems baffling to me that apparently too few seem to recall that huge Intel failure despite how recently that was. I would think that Tom's Hardware would recognize its own place in such realms, given how it played such a significant role in that CPU ISA's failing by its continual bad mouthing of Rambus back in the day.
 
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Its Itanium floundering was infamous and even in a dystopia where people often fixate on the negative, it seems baffling to me that apparently too few seem to recall that huge Intel failure despite how recently that was. I would think that Tom's Hardware would recognize its own place in such realms, given how it played such a significant role in that CPU ISA's failing by its continual bad mouthing of Rambus back in the day.
I think it's easy to point and laugh at Intel about Itanium when hindsight is 20/20. But looking at the landscape in the late 90s regarding large scale computers, there really wasn't something that was considered the de-facto ISA at the time. There's a chart of ISAs used in the TOP500 supercomputers floating around on Wikipedia and by the look of things, around 8-10 ISAs had a fairly significant share in the late 90s. To me, it felt more like Intel (and HP, since HP was involved) wanted to find something that would topple the other ISAs and dominate that market and Intel was hoping their third attempt at it would finally be the one. I don't think Intel ever intended IA-64 to replace IA-32 though.

NetBurst however, that's more up the normal consumer's alley with regards to Intel's slump.
 

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