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EDN Article: Creating A Custom Processor With RISC-V

By February 15, 2019May 12th, 2021No Comments

With its blend of open-source freedoms with the benefits of standardization, the RISC-V (risk-five) Foundation is attracting widespread industry interest. Its core specifications are stable and on the cusp of ratification, soft- and hard CPU cores along with chips, development boards, and tools are commercially available, and major companies have started adopting RISC-V to replace their custom architectures. A key feature in the architecture’s appeal is that CPU developers can adapt RISC-V functionality to their needs without sacrificing the applicability of tools and libraries created for the base standard. The key to that adaptation lies in understanding RISC-V’s modular instruction set architecture.
RISC-V started as the fifth iteration of reduced instruction set computing (RISC) design efforts at UC Berkeley, but quickly evolved from academic research to a movement seeking to redefine the electronics industry’s processing hardware design approach. Currently, system developers either must choose a proprietary CPU architecture, often optimized to a specific application space, or design their own CPU architecture. By pursuing their own design, however, developers give up the extensive support ecosystems that established CPUs have developed. There is a compromise: adapting a proprietary CPU architecture to gain customization while retaining much of the support ecosystem. This compromise, unfortunately, is impractical for many design teams due to high architecture licensing fees for proprietary architectures.
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