Synopsys joins RISC-V party with trio of embedded core designs

Recent industry support a game-changer, especially in the software sector

Synopsys is joining the RISC-V gang, revealing a trio of processor designs it will add to its ARC portfolio, targeting a range of embedded applications.

The biz, perhaps best known as a provider of electronic design automation (EDA) tools, has extended its existing ARC family of embeddable processor designs with 32-bit and 64-bit ARC-V options based on the RISC-V open instruction set architecture.

The three families are the ARC-V RMX, a 32-bit ultra-low power embedded core; ARC-V RHX, a 32-bit core optimized for real-time performance; and ARC-V RPX, a 64-bit multi-core processor optimized for host applications typically running on Linux.

Synopsys said it decided to enter the RISC-V arena because of the growing adoption of the open standard as well as interest among customers.

"We really feel like now is the right time to enter into this marketplace, and the reason is multiple fold," senior VP of product line strategy John Koeter told us.

"There's lots of instruction set architectures out there, but what we think makes RISC-V special is the industry support that's coalescing around it, particularly in the software ecosystem. And if you look at RISC-V based CPUs, according to some industry analysts, they're expected to grow at like 40 percent CAGR over the next five or six years or so," he added.

Synopsys will also be taking a seat on the board and Technical Steering Committee of RISC-V International, the non-profit body that maintains the RISC-V specifications, Koeter said.

"One of the other things coming from our ARC pedigree is that the ARC line was both configurable and extensible. And this new product line, the ARC-V product line, will be highly configurable," he added.

The ARC portfolio is available as licensable core designs that a customer can take in register-transfer level (RTL) format and integrate into a larger system-on-chip (SoC) to meet their requirements, and then take that finished design to one of the foundry companies such as TSMC or Samsung and get it manufactured.

Koeter said that to help customers, Synopsis was also making the cores available in what it calls quick flows, which are basically reference implementations.

"So if they want to take this core and target TSMC 3nm or 5nm, these quick reference flows give suggestions on how to get the optimized implementation using Synopsys tools. And those are tuned to individual process technologies, and we'll pick the most popular ones out there," he explained.

In terms of target application areas, the RMX family is the low end, and Synopsys sees it typically being used for IoT applications with its small area and low power consumption, plus it has built-in digital signal processor (DSP) capability to support face detection or gesture recognition.

The RHX family is a higher performance real-time processor, which it is expected will be embedded in devices for applications such as infotainment in the car, or consumer enterprise SSDs.

Finally, the 64-bit multi-core RPX family promises higher performance. In automotive, that might be zonal controllers, part of a software-defined vehicle concept, going up to storage area networks and datacenter hardware.

However, Rich Collins, director of product management, made it clear that Synopsys is not aiming to compete with high-end RISC-V processor designs such as those from Ventana.

"I will tell you two applications that we're not targeting. We're not targeting like a host processor in a datacenter, a server kind of chip or anything like that. We're also not targeting the application processor in a mobile phone, that kind of thing," Collins told us.

However, Collins said RPX is aiming to support common Linux distributions. "Traditionally, we've built our own embedded Linux, but with the RPX family, we're looking much more at Linux distros, like Ubuntu and Debian," he said.

RISC-V has profiles, and as long as a design adheres to these profiles, then the assumption is that all Linux distros that also adhere to those profiles will run on your core, he explained.

"So we're not limiting ourselves. Our plan is to basically plug into all of the Linux distributions that are available for RISC-V cores in general."

Synopsys said it already has a lead customer in the automotive space that hasn't been publicly announced yet, but for others the company will be rolling out the designs next year.

The 32-bit ARC-V RMX embedded processor IP is scheduled to be available in Q2 of 2024, while the 32-bit ARC-V RHX real-time design and 64-bit ARC-V RPX host processor are scheduled to be available in the second half of 2024.

There will also be additional family members added over the year, according to Koeter.

"Even within one of these individual families, there's going to be product numbers that are targeted at different applications. Like they be with or without DSP, or may use closely coupled memories versus a cache memory or things like that," he said. ®

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