As the demand for more powerful, more efficient processors continues to grow, emerging architectures like RISC-V and ARM are gaining ground against traditional x86 processors. These newer platforms offer such benefits as increased scalability and lower power consumption, making them suitable for a wide range of applications.
ARM processors are commonly used in mobile devices like phones and tablets, embedded devices, and IoT devices, and benefit from an enormous ecosystem of software and tools. RISC-V is versatile, used in everything from tiny microcontrollers to high-performance computers. Over the long term, these processor architectures are expected to reshape the future of the semiconductor industry, offering superior performance, increased energy efficiency, and greater flexibility. In fact, the global market for RISC processors is projected to grow from $8.3 billion dollars in 2020 to $14.8 billion by 2025.
Let’s take a closer look at these two emerging platforms, examining how they differ and how their growing popularity is expected to impact the industry.
RISC and ARM: Business Challenges and Ecosystems
In addition to being up against x86 processors, RISC and ARM compete with each other. For example, both platforms target mobile devices, embedded systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT). However, important philosophical differences distinguish the two platforms. ARM and RISC-V are instruction set architectures (ISAs) — the most fundamental aspect of any processor — and in fact both are reduced instruction set computer (RISC) designs, with base instructions that are simple but quick to calculate. A key difference between the two, however, is that the RISC-V architecture is open-source while ARM uses a standardized proprietary architecture.
ARM processors currently dominate the mobile device market due to their power efficiency and low energy consumption — and although RISC-V has the potential to disrupt ARM's current dominance, RISC-V is still relatively new. ARM, as noted, already boasts a rich ecosystem with a wide array of tools and software, as well as a track record of reliability. RISC-V, on the other hand, lacks such features as memory management units, advanced vector extensions, and certain security enhancements, all of which ARM and x86 ISAs do have.
Last but not least are the hurdles RISC-V will have to overcome in terms of verification, compatibility, and industry standardization. However, the rise of RISC-V still could present a challenge to ARM's position, particularly as more companies adopt RISC-V in their designs.
Top Considerations for Industry Leaders
As industry leaders consider these two processor architectures moving forward, the trade-offs between the two platforms in terms of flexibility, cost, compatibility, performance, and power efficiency will be top-of-mind. Beyond that, the adoption of RISC-V in particular presents both opportunities and issues to be overcome. While the RISC-V platform may allow more control and customization in the creation of processors, there are also technical, legal, and market barriers that could arise over time.
As a consequence, watching specific sectors within the industry that adopt RISC-V (such as high-performance computing) and monitoring the adoption and development of the platform will be essential. But creativity and innovation at this stage are also key, as industry leaders and developers take the opportunity to explore how these two platforms can work symbiotically — for example, employing RISC-V as a co-processor or an accelerator for ARM-based systems.
The RISC/ARM Trend: What Tech Leaders Should Consider
Now is an ideal time for research and development teams to experiment with the open-source advantages of the RISC-V platform to enhance its compatibility, features, and performance. By designing a wider range of tools to support development and implementation of RISC-V, technology leaders can apply it in frameworks, operating systems, debuggers, libraries, and more. Tech sector leaders can gain a competitive edge by investing in RISC-V to create innovative products and services, in addition to helping to contribute to the standardization and overall maturation of the platform.
As both platforms continue to evolve, new trends and issues will undoubtedly emerge with respect to the availability and quality of software and hardware support, legal and regulatory implications of using the two platforms, and the target application domain and use case for choosing one over the other. Market demand and consumer preferences could also influence the further development of RISC-V and ARM.
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