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Alibaba Is Open-Sourcing Its Powerful New RISC-V Processor for 5G and AI

Alibaba’s chip subsidiary Pingtouge (平头哥) yesterday introduced its first product, an RISC-V (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processor.

Alibaba’s chip subsidiary Pingtouge (平头哥) yesterday introduced its first product, an RISC-V (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) processor. The Xuantie 910 will be used as a core IP to produce high-end edge-based microcontrollers (MCUs), CPUs, and systems-on-chips. It is tailored for 5G, artificial intelligence, and Internet-of-things (IoT). Pingtounge says the processor will be open-sourced in the near future.

Alibaba says the 16-core Xuantie 910 reaches 7.1 Coremark/MHz and main frequency reaches 2.5GHz. It improves performance over mainstream RISC-V instructions by 40 percent and betters standard instructions by 20 percent. The outstanding performance of Xuantie 910 is enabled by two major innovations:

  • Xuantie 910 is a 12-stage pipelined out-of-order triple issue processor with two memory accesses per cycle;
  • It extends more than 50 instructions on top of RISC-V, which systematically enhances the processor’s computing, storage and multi-core capabilities.

Alibaba says the Xuantie 910 IP design will be fully open-sourced so global developers can freely download its FPGA code. Alibaba has also created a chip platform for domain specific SoC, providing hardware and software resources including CPU IP, SoC platform and algorithms, and various chip services for enterprises and developers for different AIoT scenarios.

While still in its infancy, the RISC-V processor is challenging ARM’s dominant position in IP cores and particularly in IoT, due its low power/performance prospect and flexible designs. Open-source architectures such as RISC-V and MIPS are shaking the microprocessor industry and forcing ARM to adjust its license policy. A week ago ARM introduced Arm Flexible Access — providing access to Arm’s technology portfolio at a reduced fee and with no obligation to purchase a full license.

Alibaba’s efforts in RISC-V are also believed to be connected to recent US sanctions on Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei, which led Arm to suspend Huawei’s license in May. The fact that Huawei will be unable to use Arm’s latest microarchitecture IPs in its next-generation flagship phones has sent ripples of concern through other Chinese tech giants.

Alibaba launched the Pingtouge Semiconductor subsidiary last September at its Computing Conferencein Hangzhou. “Pingtouge” is a Mandarin nickname for the Honey Badger, a feisty critter celebrated across social media as the world’s most fearless creature. Pingtouge is also putting significant research and development efforts into its embedded chip series CK902 and its neural network chip Ali-NPU, and has pledged to produce a quantum computing chip in the next two to three years.


Journalist: Tony Peng | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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