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Community Blog Apsara News | Full-Stack Open-Source, T-Head Promotes the Maturity of RISC-V Technology

Apsara News | Full-Stack Open-Source, T-Head Promotes the Maturity of RISC-V Technology

This article discusses the XuanTie RISC-V series processors through a short overview and FAQs.

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On October 19, 2021, at the 2021 Apsara Conference, Zhang Jianfeng, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, announced that T-Head has made the XuanTie RISC-V series processors open-source and opened a series of tools and system software. This is the global first full-stack open-source of the series processors and basic software. It will promote the maturity of RISC-V architecture, help RISC-V software and hardware technologies accelerate the fusion and development, and drive innovation to implement.

In the AIoT era, RISC-V architecture is expected to become the widely used CPU architecture in the next generation after Intel x86 and ARM due to its open and flexible features. However, the current RISC-V architecture faces problems, such as application fragmentation, low development efficiency, and difficulty adapting software and hardware. The software and hardware ecosystem is not mature yet.

The XuanTie RISC-V series processors adopt self-developed technology to cover various scenarios ranging from low power consumption to high performance scenarios. They support operating systems, such as AliOS, FreeRTOS, RT-Thread, Linux, and Android. They have been applied to microcontrollers, industrial control, intelligent household electrical appliances, smart grid, image processing, artificial intelligence, multimedia, and automotive electronics. Recently, XuanTie 910 gained Android compatibility for the first time, expanding the vision of RISC-V architecture for an open ecosystem.

Currently, the XuanTie series processors have shipped more than 2.5 billion cores to more than 150 customers and more than 500 authorizations, becoming the homegrown CPU with the largest application scale in China.

The open-source XuanTie series RISC-V processors include four mass production processors IP, such as XuanTie E902, E906, C906 and, C910, as well as full-stack software and tools based on the multi-operating system of XuanTie. Developers can download the XuanTie source code through GitHub and Open Chip Community. On this basis, you can realize open-source EDA collaboration, innovate hardware architecture, and enrich the software application ecosystem.

Calista Redmond, the CEO of the RISC-V Foundation said, "Alibaba has become a true leader in the RISC-V community through its continuous contribution, leading technology, and in-depth cooperation with the RISC-V ecosystem. Its move to open-source XuanTie will stimulate the global RISC-V community to develop innovative chips, and the global ecosystem of RISC-V will benefit from it."

T-Head has been studying the self-developed technology of chips for years and insisted on opening it up to the public, making continuous efforts to promote the universalization of computing power. XuanTie 910 was opened to the public in 2019 as soon as it launched. Wujian 100 Open, a low power consumption and micro-control chip design platform, was opened for the first time. The full-stack open-source provides global developers with new architectural choices and will also promote the maturity of the RISC-V technology and ecosystem.

Zhang Jianfeng said, "After three years of hard work, we have released the open-source version of the XuanTie RISC-V series today. In the future, we will open-source more RISC-V processors and hope to have more partners to develop valuable IP cores and basic software based on XuanTie to build an open, transparent and inclusive RISC-V ecosystem jointly."

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1.  What are the specific contents of the open-source of XuanTie RISC-V series processors? What is the significance of the global RISC-V ecosystem?

The open-source OpenXuanTie series RISC-V processors include four mass production processors IP, such as XuanTie E902, E906, C906, and C910, as well as full-stack software and tools based on the multi-operating systems of OpenXuanTie (AliOS, FreeRTOS, RT-Thread, Linux, and Android.)

Developers can download the OpenXuanTie source code through GitHub and Open Chip Community. On this basis, you can realize open-source EDA collaboration, innovate hardware architecture, and enrich the software application ecosystem.

Calista Redmond, CEO of the International RISC-V Foundation said, "Alibaba has become a true leader in the RISC-V community through continuous contribution, leading technology, and in-depth cooperating with the RISC-V ecosystem. The move to open-source XuanTie will stimulate the global RISC-V community to develop innovative chips, and the global ecosystem of RISC-V will benefit from it."

2.  There are some open-source research institutions, such as the open-source Xiangshan RISC-V processor of the Bao Yungang Team. What are the differences between the open-source series of T-Head XuanTie RISC-V and other teams?

T-Head is happy to see more academic institutions and commercial organizations use open-source RISC-V processors. We also cooperate with the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to explore RISC-V advanced architecture jointly.

Specifically, the Xiangshan processor focuses more on agile development technology and is based on the Chisel development language, which is of great significance to the scientific research field.

The open-source XuanTie RISC-V series processors of T-Head use the widely used Verilog development language. They are outstanding in terms of productization capability and technical maturity. After years of market testing and increasingly well-appointed software and tool development, the XuanTie RISC-V series processors have the full-stack capability of integrating software and hardware. Based on this, developers can implement open-source EDA collaboration, innovate hardware architecture, and enrich the software application ecosystem.

In addition, T-Head will continue to provide technical and service support to assist the ecosystem in realizing the product implementation of RISC-V processors.

3.  What are the differences between this version of open-source and the previous versions of open-source T-Head? What is the progress?

T-Head has always adhered to the open-source concept. This open-source is the latest action to undertake the previous open-source achievements. Its scale and level in the global RISC-V community are unprecedented.

XuanTie 910 was open to developers as early as July 2019. Developers worldwide can download the FPGA code of the processor for free. XuanTie 910 has also become a representative processor for RISC-V to advance to high-end chips. Recently, XuanTie 910 gained Android compatibility with Android for the first time, expanding the vision of RISC-V architecture for an open ecosystem.

In addition, T-Head has successively opened a low power consumption and micro-control chip design platform, Wujian 100 Open, and a full set of modules, such as processor, basic interface IP, operating system, software driver, and development tools.

4.  Redhat has achieved commercial success through the open-source software field. Why is there no such success in the fields of chip hardware?

Unlike mature open-source software, open-source hardware is a new concept.

Open-source software is low-cost and attractive for developers. However, the hardware development process is complex, time-consuming, and expensive in terms of trial and error, placing higher demands for open-source hardware. Therefore, market-proven open-source processors have become popular.

5.  As a commercial enterprise, how do you consider the contributions of open source to the business? How do you realize a positive business cycle?

T-Head supports open-source. For the rising RISC-V architecture technology, only more developers and enterprises can promote ecological progress, make the technology more mature in the software and hardware fields (such as chips and operating systems), and benefit every partner in the ecosystem.

At the same time, the XuanTie RISC-V processor series is open and will continue to provide technology and service updates to help enterprises move from open source to real implementation. It will prosper the "cloud-terminal integration" AIoT ecosystem with developers.

6.  T-Head also launched the Yitian 710 chip and is working on RISC-V architecture. What is the relationship between them?

T-Head sticks to the development of self-developed technology and open-source. The Yitian 710 chip shows that T-Head has become one of the few leading enterprises in the world that can design a top-performance CPU.

Currently, the wave of AIoT has been growing. RISC-V may be the key to the Internet of Everything (IoE) in the AIoT era and the key to broadening the Internet of Things ecosystem. T-Head's exploration and layout in the RISC-V are of great significance to the promotion of the AIoT strategy. Open-source XuanTie RISC-V series processors will drive the development of the RISC-V ecosystem, promote the Internet of Everything, and benefit the global RISC-V community.

At the same time, RISC-V has a wide vision. XuanTie 910 gained compatibility with Android for the first time, which proves the possibility of RISC-V developing towards high performance. T-Head will continue to explore the implementation of RISC-V architecture in more scenarios and fields, moving towards cloud integration.

7.  What are the RISC-V advantages of T-Head?

More Than Ten Years of Instruction Set Technology Accumulation: The T-Head Team has ten years of CPU and chip research and development experience. It has been engaged in the research and development of self-developed instruction architecture, CPU microarchitecture, and system chip products for a long time. Many CPU IP cores have been proven successful by large-scale mass production.

Rich Products and the Largest Market Occupancy: T-Head has a product family of rich RISC-V processor products ranging from low power consumption and low cost to medium and high performance, which are widely used in MCU, Bluetooth, wireless, voice, vision, and other application scenarios.

In 2018, the T-Head Team switched from self-developed the C-Sky instruction set to RISC-V. In July 2019, T-Head released the RISC-V processor XuanTie 910, which has the highest performance in the industry. Since then, the Wujian SOC platform and a number of XuanTie RISC-V processors have been released to meet the needs of low power consumption and high performance computing scenarios.

In August 2019, T-Head released the Wujian 100 Open, a one-stop chip design platform for the AIoT era, providing an overall solution that integrates chip architecture, basic software, algorithms, and development tools.

In May 2021, T-Head launched the RVB-ICE, RVB-D1, and RVB2601 development boards and announced the terminal-cloud integrated software platform, providing another bridge for developers and enterprises to experience RISC-V technology.

Since the introduction of XuanTie 910 more than two years ago, T-Head has promoted the development of the RISC-V software and hardware ecosystem, adapted to AliOS, FreeRTOS, RT-Thread, Linux, Android, and other operating systems, and has been applied in more than 100 chips. The XuanTie series has become the processor product with the largest influence and market occupancy in the domestic RISC-V field, with an annual authorization increase of 50%.

Technical Strength Is in a Leading Position: XuanTie 910 is the forerunner of high-performance RISC-V processors, expanding the boundaries of RISC-V performance and application. The processor integrates the product-proven instruction technology in the self-developed architecture with RISCV reduced instruction technology, which is stable and reliable compared with the original RISC-V and has an average performance improvement of more than 20%. In terms of processor design technology, XuanTie 910 has developed into a 3-launch parallel architecture based on the original high-performance processor of 2-launch. The workflow depth has developed from 10 levels to 12 levels, and the unit performance has increased by more than 40% to reach 7.1 Coremark/MHz, while the main speed has reached 2.5GHz. The overall index has been improved to a new level in the original technology basis, and the performance meets the standards of 5G, network communication, artificial intelligence, autonomous driving, and other fields.

On October 13, 2021, T-Head announced that XuanTie 910 is compatible with Android and can run applications, such as Chrome browser. This is the first time in the chip industry that RISC-V architecture supports Android. The RISC-V architecture is expected to break down scenario barriers and become a new choice for high-performance chip design.

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