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A new competitor arrives in the processor market, and it will not manufacture x86 or ARM chips: it has opted for the RISC-V architecture

Entering the microprocessor market is by no means a piece of cake. Design and produce high integration semiconductors it is much more complex than making chips for simpler equipment. And, in addition, it requires having more resources. This is why we can currently count the companies that compete effectively in this market on the fingers of one hand.

Discover, especially during today’s delicate juncture, that a company specializing in the design of highly integrated semiconductors has decided get into the microprocessor market general purpose is a breath of fresh air. This company is the British Imagination Technologies. It was founded in 1985, and today we can find its integrated circuits in a wide range of consumer electronic devices, such as smartphones or video game consoles. Even in some cars.

However, his specialty, the backbone of his current business, is the design of low-power graphics processors, chips for machine vision and integrated circuits for artificial intelligence. The reason this company has apparently decided to enter the general-purpose microprocessor market responds to positive inertia that you have acquired over the last few years.

Imagination Technologies specializes in the design of low-power graphics processors, chips for machine vision and integrated circuits for artificial intelligence.

Imagination Technologies presented two days ago its economic results for the first half of this year, and its billing has grown 55% compared to the same period in 2020. Not bad at all. This growth is probably driven in large part by the huge demand for semiconductors today.

In fact, this company is one of the largest suppliers of graphics chips for the automotive industry, which is currently in a delicate position due to the fact that the semiconductor market is not capable of respond to your needs.

Anyway, this company is much smaller than Intel and AMD. Infinitely smaller. Its turnover for the first six months of this year has amounted to 76 million dollars, a figure that leaves no doubt about its lower size. But, precisely, its size is clearly aligned with the type of microprocessors it will produce: chips with RISC-V architecture.

This is the decision that has caused us to look at Imagination Technologies. And it has done so for a reason: this architecture It is the best asset that Europe has to become independent from American CPUs.

RISC-V is the great European hope

‘The only option Europe has if it wants to be independent in the field of supercomputing only goes through develop RISC-V processors. And it is a political decision. There is no other solution”. These words were pronounced by Mateo Valero during the conversation we had with him at the end of last February, and there is no doubt that he is a person who knows what he is talking about.

Mateo is professor of Computer Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and director of the BSC (Barcelona Supercomputing Center). In addition, he is a recognized scientist and the greatest architect of supercomputing in Spain.

RISC-V is a free hardware alternative both Intel and AMD x86-64 designs and ARM-architecture CPUs that have proliferated so much in recent years. As we can deduce from its name, it is a RISC (computer with a reduced instruction set) type design.

RISC-V is a free and open architecture. It is available to any person, institution or company to be used and modified without paying any fee.

Its most obvious attraction is that when it comes to a free and open architecture It is available to any person, institution or company to be used and modified without paying any fee. This is a very strong point in its favor, and makes it attractive for a very wide range of use scenarios, such as personal computers, embedded systems or supercomputers.

This is precisely the versatility that Imagination Technologies wants to take advantage of. In addition, it is evident that it is much easier to take an architecture like RISC-V as a starting point, which already has a solid foundation and does not require paying user fees, than to develop a completely new architecture and try to compete with it. in such a mature market as is that of general-purpose processors. From here on, everything is up in the air, but there is no doubt that this company is worth keeping a close eye on.

Cover image | Derrick Coetzee

Vía | Design And Reuse