Will the DSP chip based on RISC-V be the breakthrough of the four major domestic chips?
“In recent years, the open source RISC-V instruction set chip has achieved good results in the IoT market, which has brought a lot of pressure to ARM, which has an advantage in this market.
In August 2020, the “Several Policies for Promoting the High-quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and Software Industry in the New Era” issued by the State Council proposed that China’s chip self-sufficiency rate should reach 70% by 2025. The CPU, GPU, FPGA, and DSP, known as the “four major components” of domestic chips, are of far-reaching significance in terms of improving the self-sufficiency rate of domestic chips or solving the “stuck neck” problem of high-end chips.
Lei Feng.com launched a series of articles on “Four Pieces of Domestic Chips”, interpreting the current situation of domestic CPU, GPU, FPGA, and DSP respectively, and discovering opportunities for domestic chips from the perspective of investors.
RISC-V, the most “young” instruction set born in 2010, has attracted many giant supporters, such as foreign Google, Qualcomm, Western Digital, and domestic Ali, Huawei, and Ziguang Zhanrui.
In recent years, the open source RISC-V instruction set chip has achieved good results in the IoT market, which has brought a lot of pressure to ARM, which has an advantage in this market.
Semico Research predicts that there will be 62.4 billion RISC-V CPU cores worldwide in 2025.
The RISC-V instruction set can not only be used for the CPU, the world’s first DSP (Digital Signal Processor, digital signal processor) based on the RISC-V instruction set will be mass-produced at the end of this month. The chip comes from the Chinese startup Zhongke Haoxin.
For the RISC-V camp, this is a noteworthy development in ecological construction. For DSP chips, this is a bold attempt. For China’s four major domestic chips, this is a breakthrough opportunity.
The world’s first RISC-V DSP for the industrial automation market
According to known public information, Zhongke Haoxin is the first company in the world to design DSP with RISC-V instruction set.
Li Renwei, founder and chairman of Zhongke Haoxin, told Lei Feng.com: “We are one of the few DSP teams in China, with more than ten years of experience in DSP and general-purpose processor research and development, and started research on RISC-V processor cores in 2016. .The company was established in January 2019, and the first RISC-V DSP chip was successfully taped out in July.”
“We will mass-produce two series of DSPs at the end of March, both for the industrial automation market.” Li Renwei revealed.
Li Renwei, founder and chairman of Zhongke Haoxin
The reason why Zhongke Haoxin dared to choose RISC-V to design DSP is not only that its team has successfully developed a variety of processors, but also because RISC-V is a good choice to solve the two major challenges of domestic DSP.
DSP is a kind of embedded general-purpose programmable microprocessor. The biggest advantage is that it can process digital signals in real time and at high speed, and has lower power consumption than CPU, GPU, and FPGA. It is widely used in communication, computing, consumer electronics and automatic control. .
“There are two main forms of DSP, one is a single chip, and the other is integrated into the SoC through IP or modules.” Li Renwei said: “The domestic single-chip DSP has some market share, and the localization rate in the field of DSP IP is almost 100%. zero.”
Lei Feng.com learned that the localization rate of domestic DSPs in some special fields has reached more than 80%, but these special fields account for less than 5% of the overall DSP market, and the self-sufficiency rate of domestic DSPs in other fields is less than 10%.
There are two major constraints to improve the self-sufficiency rate of DSP. The first constraint is intellectual property. Any processor needs an instruction set. The essence of the instruction set is the intellectual property issue. The CPU has x86, ARM, MIPS and other instruction sets, among which ARM dominates the mobile processor market by virtue of the licensing model.
“The DSP instruction sets of the giants are different, and they are not authorized to the outside world. It is not difficult for domestic DSPs to define a set of instruction sets by themselves, but it is difficult to build a complete set of tool chains and ecology alone.” Li Renwei pointed out.
The second constraint is the application ecology. How to attract developers and customers to use domestic DSPs is a bigger challenge.
“RISC-V is an open source instruction set, and there is no intellectual property issue. At the same time, both domestic and foreign companies and universities have joined the RISC-V Foundation, and the ecosystem has developed rapidly.” Li Renwei said: “At that time, I felt that RISC -V has the opportunity to perfectly solve the two major challenges faced by domestic DSPs, so we made a bold choice in 2016 and began to independently develop RISC-V-based DSPs.”
As for why the RISC-V DSP for the industrial control market was first introduced, there are three main reasons.
Solve the challenge of weak RISC-V performance and take advantage of flexibility
“The reason why we choose the two markets of industrial automation and machine vision is mainly because our team has more accumulation in both technical reserves and market promotion in these two fields.” Li Renwei further said, “Of course, these two fields We will also take a step-by-step approach, first launching a series of products for industrial automation, and then launching products for machine vision.”
Another reason is that the consumer electronics and automatic control market accounts for 11% of the entire DSP market, and the industrial control market is also an important market for DSP giants, which is a good breakthrough.
DSPs for these two fields will have great differences in performance. DSPs used in industrial automation are the bridge between digital signals and control, and more emphasis is placed on real-time control and transformation performance in applications. DSPs used in machine vision requires more computing power.
High computing power is a big challenge for chips with the RISC-V instruction set. Li Renwei said: “The DSP based on the RISC-V instruction set is very different from the DSP of the giant company in terms of architecture. Under the same main frequency, the DSP performance of the RISC-V instruction set and the performance of the giant company’s DSP are relatively large. gap.”
The essential reason is that the traditional high-performance DSP architecture is designed for DSP algorithms, and one instruction can implement many complex functions, while using RISC-V instructions to do the same thing requires calling multiple instructions.
“This is a very big challenge for us. With the rich experience of our team, on the basis of the most basic RISC-V instruction set, according to the characteristics of the algorithm, many DSP instructions are extracted and defined, plus the architecture. A lot of innovation, and finally design a DSP with excellent performance and power consumption.” Li Renwei said.
The performance challenges brought by RISC-V are solved, and the advantages of the RISC-V instruction set are also highlighted. “Because we only use the most basic RISC-V instruction set and our own extended instruction set, there is no forward compatibility problem, plus the power consumption advantage of RISC-V itself, our DSP has a power consumption advantage.”
Li Renwei also said: “Just as RISC-V can play the advantages of customization in every field, the same is true in the field of DSP. I also think that the future will be the era of domain-specific architecture.”
The higher cost performance of the chip does not mean that it will be welcomed by developers and users, and the application ecology is a greater challenge. “I often say that we are actually standing on the shoulders of giants. Without the contribution of the RISC-V community, it would be too difficult for us to make a complete tool chain. With an open source solution, we can build on the basis of open source. Modifications and customizations make it much easier.”
Li Renwei said: “In order to make it easier for users to switch, we have also done a lot of work, including the development environment, interface and interface, etc. Through the compiler and providing enough libraries, users can easily switch to without changing their habits. Our DSP, and the cost is very low.”
First switch to domestic DSP chips in a way that users are familiar with, and then gradually improve performance, cut into the mid-to-low-end market, and take advantage of the advantages step by step to achieve high-end replacement of chips. The domestic DSP chip company represented by Zhongke Haoxin has found a good domestic alternative route, but the breakthrough challenge is not small, and it also requires patience.
Breaking through the domination of the three giants under the wave of domestic substitution
“No matter which field, whether high-end or low-end, the most difficult thing for domestic replacement of chips is the application ecology.” Li Renwei believes, “Before domestic users had no choice even if they wanted to use domestic chips.”
Today, the country is vigorously developing the domestic chip industry and has set clear goals. In August 2020, the State Council issued the “Several Policies for Promoting the High-quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and Software Industry in the New Era”, which proposed that China’s chip self-sufficiency rate should reach 70% by 2025.
With the support of funds and policies, domestic chips including CPU, GPU, FPGA, and DSP have ushered in huge development opportunities. Zhongke Haoxin was also established under this background. “For areas where domestic replacement is more urgent, it will be easier to increase the self-sufficiency rate of domestic chips including DSP, such as electric power and rail transportation.” Li Renwei said.
“In addition to specific fields, including industrial automation and other markets, domestic users are more open to domestic chips. From last year to this year, we obviously feel that customers are more willing to accept new domestic chips, and their tolerance is higher. “
Regarding the stability of domestic chips that many users are worried about, Li Renwei said that Zhongke Haoxin’s chips have strict testing procedures, and there is no problem with stability.
Another advantage of domestic chips is that they can better meet the needs of the domestic market. For example, more and more attention is paid to security. Many domestic chips enhance the security of chips through hardware. Zhongke Haoxin can also provide customized functions to achieve stronger security.
There is also an opportunity that cannot be ignored. The three major DSP chip giants, including TI, ADI, and NXP, are generally short of cores. DSP chips do not require the industry’s most advanced 7nm and 5nm processes. Domestic chip foundries can manufacture them, and most of the chip packaging and testing are also carried out in China.
“If the domestic mature nodes are used, the impact on the production of chips will be less. The lack of cores is indeed an opportunity for domestic chips including DSPs.” Li Renwei said.
Together with CPU, GPU, and FPGA, DSP, which is called the four major chips of chips, is smaller in terms of market size and attention due to its stronger specialization. Even so, the domestic replacement of DSP is still of great significance for realizing the independent controllability and high-end replacement of chips.
As one of the few DSP chip companies in China, the RISC-V instruction set chosen by Zhongke Haoxin can solve the two major challenges of intellectual property rights and application ecology.
But as Li Renwei said to Lei Feng.com, “Our goal is clear from the very beginning of defining products. Products of the same grade are more cost-effective than the DSPs of foreign giants. It is quite difficult to achieve this goal.”
Fortunately, Zhongke Haoxin has raised funds last year and this year, and has been recognized by the capital. The current feedback from customers is also very positive.
Be patient and seize the opportunity. The future of domestic chips is worth looking forward to.