RISC-V, an Open Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) designed with small, fast, and low-power real-world implementations in mind, has many advantages for OEMs. Alongside affordability, OEMs do not need to worry locking into a closed ecosystem.
Low “RISC”, High Reward
A decision on processing architecture is of huge importance and carries a significant cost. Once an OEM commits to a particular processor type (such as ARM, Qualcomm, or Intel) they commit considerable design resources, which often includes teams and teams of highly paid, talented engineers. As the processors are not interchangeable, work done on one architecture is not entirely transferrable to others.
Moreover, as OEMs don’t want to continually develop new software, they will often commit entire product families and/or platforms to a single processing architecture, allowing work done for one device to be transferrable to the next product in the platform. However, a processing competitor to the OEMs chosen one may have a better product and even a more robust ecosystem, but it would still be extremely difficult for an OEM to make the switch, much less make an apples-to-apples comparison based on the merits of the solution. A layman’s example might involve a long-time iPhone user having trouble moving all of their photos, music, and other files to a new Android phone, as they have become ensconced in Apple’s ecosystem.
While having an ecosystem that locks in OEMs has proven beneficial to processor manufacturers, a blog from Codasip cautions that a lack of competition, at least on the merit of the quality of their products, will lead to a stagnation of progress. In other words, companies would invest just enough to keep OEMs happy – no more, no less.
One advantage of RISC-V is that this single software ecosystem, built on the RISC-V standard, supports multiple processor vendors. This means that processor vendors must now compete on the merit of their individual products for different applications. Moreover, without the need for each new processor manufacturer to build an expensive ecosystem from the ground up, there is the possibilities for new innovations in the processing industry.
The Bottom Line
The single software ecosystem built on the RISC-V standard allows for OEMs to bypass having to lock into a specific processor ecosystem. When an OEM chooses a particular processor type, it not only has to pay for that particular processor, but it has to continue to purchase from whichever company it purchased it processor from, leading to a market where profits are not driven by competition, but by how many customers locked-into an ecosystem are gathered. Also, the fact that the RISC-V standard supports different processor vendors means that OEMs can give the architecture a try without much risk, thereby leading to more productive competition between processor companies.