Technology has become an integral part of our lives. It allows us to do more work and be more productive. This is driven by the vast number of devices that we use to help us in our daily lives. These include computers, laptops and mobile phones. Recent trends in technology have also led to the increase in ‘smart’ devices under a system called Internet of Things or IOT. These are electrical products that are connected to the internet and hence become capable of carrying out a lot of other functions. The potential for growth with these devices is massive. But have we ever stopped to think about what drives these devices?
The main component common in all of the gadgets mentioned above is the CPU. This is the ‘brains’ or control center. It carries out all the computations necessary to carry out a given task. When the CPU was designed it need to have a common standard so it could be used by a multitude of devices, each with a different purpose. This made sure that the code for a particular task will be executed similarly across all devices. This is part of the CPU architecture. The CPU architecture has two main components knows as the Instruction Set Architecture and the Microarchitecture. Once an ISA is developed and standardize by the industry, it is very difficult to change it. This is why there are two main ISAs currently used which are used in all the CPUs worldwide. These ISAs are developed by Intel and ARM – the two main chip manufacturers in the world. Intel has the market share for powerful processors used in computers and laptops while ARM has developed and ISA for power efficient chips used in handheld and mobile devices.
The cost and development of these ISAs has led to the companies making their intellectual property as proprietary. This means that a royalty must be paid to the companies if anyone wishes to use the architecture in their appliance. This royalty makes it hard for a newcomer to introduce a device since they are forced to use either of the two ISAs. This is why a group of researchers from the University of Berkeley have made a new ISA called the RISC-V. This architecture has been made open-source and can be used by anyone. This news is a welcome sign as it allows consumers and especially researchers to carry out their work without having to go through proprietary technology or paying additional fees to Intel and ARM.
While the proliferation of the RISC-V architecture will still take a lot of time to compete with giants such as Intel and ARM, it is a welcome change from the status quo that had emerged. There are numerous companies that have started using this architecture and implementing it in their devices. Support for it has also been added to the GNU/GCC libraries which allows Unix operating systems to run software on this ISA. This will continue driving forward development and support for this CPU architecture.