The open chip standard will go from "one drop in the bucket to two," representing a small fraction of the overall ISA market but showing incredible growth, according to a new report from Deloitte.
After more than 10 years on the market, RISC-V (or "Risk five"), the open-standard architecture for chip development, is taking off. According to a report released on Wednesday from Deloitte Global, RISC-V processing cores will double in 2022–and then double again in 2023. Deloitte expects the open source solution to come near $800 million in 2023. By 2024, it predicts that number to be nearly $1 billion.
RISC-V is a type of ISA (instruction set architecture) that can offer some unique advantages to businesses. According to TechRepublic's previous interview with Mark Himelstein, CTO at RISC-V, "Many companies are taking advantage of RISC-V to create custom processors designed to handle the power and performance requirements of newer workloads for AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning), IoT (Internet of Things), and VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) applications."
The traditional standards for processing cores—which handle workloads from computers, data centers and phones—are not open; they have proprietary instruction sets. Currently, Intel and Arm are the biggest players, representing almost 100% of CPUs across the globe.
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RISC-V is still a tiny fraction of the global ISA market—less than 1% of tens of billions of processors. Still, it's "essentially moving from the drop in the bucket to two drops in the bucket in 2022: The growth rate is huge," said Duncan Stewart, director of research for TMT in Deloitte Canada.
RISC-V may not be the best solution for all customers—it's relatively new and doesn't have all of the support the traditional ISAs have. Still, according to Deloitte, there are advantages with RISC-V. First, it's open and free—that means eliminating costly licensing fees, which can get into the millions—an asset to smaller companies that want to get to the market sooner. It's also easier to adjust, allowing companies to harness established IP building blocks along with the shared development toolbox. It's simple and extensible as well, and can handle newer compute workloads.
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It's also sanction-free, which means it can circumvent export restrictions. So who's interested in this technology? According to Stewart, "The top three answers are China, China, and China."
"Many Chinese manufacturers are worried that having their ISA potentially at risk of US embargo sanctions would put them in a very difficult position," Stewart said. This concern with access to ISAs makes the open source technology particularly appealing. Also, between a quarter and a third of all the RISC-V organization members are based in China.
After China, startups, IoT, AI and data centers would likely be interested in the technology. It significantly lowers the barrier to entry for "kids in garages"—i.e., startups—Stewart said. Compared to "the existing ISAs requirements. RISC-V will almost always be cheaper and easier," which is "good for innovation going forward."
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According to Deloitte, the 50-plus ISAs that have existed may be consolidating, with the two major players, Arm and Intel, likely to stick around. There's no reason to believe that these will lose business with RISC-V. Still, it could become a third player on the scene. "There is a chance that RISC-V could become a major and significant player; not a drop in the bucket, but a quarter of the bucket or a third of the bucket or half," Stewart said.
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