In recent years, RISC computing-based products such as smart phones and consumer tablet PCs keep launching in the market. So the companies dealing with RISC computing solutions are reaping the full benefits of today’s trend. What is the current status of Advantech’s efforts in RISC-based computing development?
According to statistics, starting from the 1960s, the electronic technology and market core products show significant trend variations every ten years. The figure (figure 1) shows the first generation Micro Frame and Micro Computer products. In the past 20 years, the PC, the notebook and the Internet have brought profound changes in our daily lives. At the same time, the evolution of wireless data transmission technologies, which include Wi-Fi, GPRS, 3G, 4G, WiMAX, LTE (Long Term Evolution) and other wireless networks, has greatly strengthened the link between people and information. This evolution of technology has brought more flexibility and convenience to our lives.
In the past few years, the best-selling RISC-based products such as smart phones, tablet PCs, e-books, and Wii have had a tremendous impact on many facets of our everyday lives. Along with the evolution of RISC computing technology, the functions are getting more efficient and powerful. RISC has already benefited our lives in different ways.
What is RISC all about? What is the difference between RISC and x86 architecture? RISC is an acronym for Reduced Instruction Set Computer; it is a microprocessor that is designed to perform a lower number (compared to x86) of computer instructions so that it can operate at a higher speed. Computer technology started over 30 years ago in the early 1970’s. Engineers observed that 80 percent of computing execution was handled by only 20 percent of the instructions, which meant that a high number of instructions basically went to waste. Thus, the RISC concept was developed to reduce the size of the instruction set – and a number of little-used instructions were removed. Afterwards, several RISC designs emerged in the market.
What are the typical characteristics of RISC architecture? RISC architecture makes use of a small set of simplified instructions in an attempt to improve performance. It has a smaller ‘die-size’ that requires fewer transistors. They can be designed faster because the simpler RISC-based processor requires less design and application programming effort, and offers lower design costs. But low-cost, performance-improving RISC technology is not without its drawbacks. Since the instruction set of RISC processor is reduced, some functions are not supported and performance is reduced as well. Thus, previous RISC products are not suitable for implementation on general-purpose computing core platform.
The article uses some simple ideas to help everyone have a clear picture of RISC product features. Because the instruction set is reduced, it simplifies the CPU architecture and makes the chip die size smaller, with less power consumption per chip, and a higher production quantity per wafer. That’s why the RISC solution has the general advantages of low-cost and power-savings. Since the instruction set has been reduced, RISC-based products have performance limitations and in the past were not suitable for use in general applications.
Currently, RISC has three major IP suppliers - ARM, MIPS & PowerPC. Each has its own characteristics and flexibility. PowerPC is a standard RISC architecture developed by the IBM, Motorola and Apple alliance known as AIM. It was originally intended for personal computers, but later on became popular as an embedded and high-performance processor. Everybody knew very well that the heart of Apple's Power Mac G5 was IBM's PowerPC G5 CPU. Back then, the Power MAC G5 was touted by Apple as the fastest personal computer ever built. The second most common RISC microprocessor is the MIPS. After being acquired by Silicon Graphics, MIPS technology has been widely used in mobile consumer electronics, digital entertainment, wired and wireless communications, and networking. Last, but not least is ARM, the most successful RISC. ARM targets embedded and low-power segments, and the low end PC market. The relative simplicity of ARM processors makes them suitable for low-power applications. This has made them dominant in the mobile and embedded electronics market. ARM may be aiming to scale up to the laptop market, then desktops, and in the future, servers.
What are the attributes that made ARM a success in the market? After much thought and consideration, there are three major points:
- Performance grew a dramatic 10 times within a few years.
- The continuous optimization approach achieved ever lower power consumption.
- Full software compatibility was and is preserved even for future enhancements.