MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — The RISC-V movement is grabbing the attention of a growing set of chip architects and semiconductor executives. Several came to the group’s fifth workshop here to gauge whether the seeds planted by a handful of academics could grow into a disruptive, commercial reality.
The group aims to spread support for its free instruction set architecture across a broad range of products. Talks at the event made clear it will take several years for the ambitious efforts to bear fruit.
Many attendees said they felt exhilarated by the prospects of free, flexible cores unencumbered by patents with an ecosystem of innovations around them. Some feared the efforts could undermine existing markets in an industry already tightening its belt in a cold winter of consolidation.
“RISC-V is the Linux of processor architectures,” said Ron Minnich, a Google software developer who presented his research on creating a hybrid of threads and virtual machines.
More than 330 people registered for the event. (Image: Krste Asanović)
“This event has the same feel to me as the early Linux gatherings in the 1990’s,” Minnich told EE Times. “You could tell something was happening, but you didn’t know where it was going to go, just that things were going to change,” he said.
Veteran microprocessor designer Dave Ditzel is another staunch proponent and close contact of Berkeley professor David Patterson who launched the RISC-V movement with a 2014 paper. Ditzel attended the event along with several employees of his latest startup, Esperanto Technologies, which is developing a multithreaded RISC-V processor.
Esperanto includes members of Eltechs, a developer in Russia of binary translators for running x86 programs on ARM processors. Ditzel, who developed chips at Intel and the former Sun Microsystems, is perhaps best known for his former startup Transmeta, which developed processors that could run x86 software.
Others attendees had more prosaic interests. Executives and designers from AMD and Mellanox at the event said their companies buy or build simple cores to handle a wide range of basic tasks, more than a dozen of them on a single network card. They would love to replace them with free cores, they said.
Google's Ron Minnich presented research on an alternative virtualization model. (Image: Krste Asanović)
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