RISC-V Takes a Big Step Forward with Microsemi’s Ecosystem

October 20, 2017 Rich Nass

We’ve been talking a lot over the last year or so about the RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA), and about how it’s quickly evolving into a processor architecture. If you’ve somehow missed the news, the RISC-V ISA is a standard open architecture under the governance of the RISC-V Foundation. The ISA took a big step forward this week with Microsemi’s announcement of the Mi-V ecosystem, which pairs the company with a host of industry leaders to provide a huge piece of the puzzle—the ecosystem.

This announcement is just the beginning, and frankly, there’s still a long way to go, but the path is becoming clearer. I’ve uttered these words for a long time: it doesn’t matter how great your processor is; if you don’t have the surrounding tools, like OSs, drivers, compilers, and so on, the processor is pretty useless.

Microsemi has a lot at stake here, and it’s clearly in the company’s best interest to develop the ecosystem, because at the end of the day, Microsemi wants to sell microprocessors (or SoCs or FGPAs). As stated by the company, its goal is to “increase adoption of its RISC-V soft central processing unit (CPU) product family.”

That said, the company simultaneously introduced its Mi-V RV32IMA CPU core as well as additional FPGA-based soft CPU solutions based on RISC-V CPUs.

A key to the success of RISC-V is that, due to its open-source nature (freely available to the community), it’s being tested and improved by the community at large. As one who sees many of the emails floating around the design community, I can attest to the fact that this is really happening. Because the IP core is not encrypted, it can be used to ensure trust and certifications that may not be possible with closed architectures.

The Mi-V ecosystem contains a number of components, including Microsemi’s SoftConsole Eclipse-based integrated development environment (IDE), a firmware catalog, and the Libero PolarFire system-on-chip (SoC). Operating systems include Express Logic’s ThreadX, Huawei’s LiteOS, and Micrium’s µC/OS-II (note that Micrium is part of Silicon Labs). There’s also support for FreeRTOS, which we’ve learned is quite popular in the embedded space.

SoftConsole lets developers embark using a single tool chain for their RISC-V development. Interestingly, the same tool can be used for development on ARM cores, and can also be used to migrate a design from ARM to RISC-V.

Bearing in mind that an ecosystem isn’t just software, available hardware includes Microsemi’s RTG4 development kit, the Igloo2 RISC-V board, and the PolarFire evaluation kit. Debug dongles come from Microsemi and Olimex. Example projects, drivers, and firmware are all available on GitHub.

About the Author

Rich Nass

Richard Nass is the Executive Vice-President of OpenSystems Media. His key responsibilities include setting the direction for all aspects of OpenSystems Media’s Embedded and IoT product portfolios, including web sites, e-newsletters, print and digital magazines, and various other digital and print activities. He was instrumental in developing the company's on-line educational portal, Embedded University. Previously, Nass was the Brand Director for UBM’s award-winning Design News property. Prior to that, he led the content team for UBM Canon’s Medical Devices Group, as well all custom properties and events in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Nass has been in the engineering OEM industry for more than 25 years. In prior stints, he led the Content Team at EE Times, handling the Embedded and Custom groups and the TechOnline DesignLine network of design engineering web sites. Nass holds a BSEE degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

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