A Guide to Choosing the Right IoT Processor for Your Company
In addition to processing power, developers should consider the processor’s instruction set architecture. “The instruction set architecture is the contract between the software and hardware,” says Tim Whitfield, vice president of strategy for automotive and IoT line of business at ARM. “In choosing architecture, you’re really choosing a software ecosystem.”
He continues: “ARM has a huge ecosystem of software development tools, platforms that enable people to go through and take a concept or idea to a functioning system. Software is an expensive and skilled part of the design process. The more you can reuse and build on platforms that already exist, the quicker you can securely deploy your device into whatever system you want to deploy it into,” Whitfield explains.
RISC-V is an open source hardware ISA. “RISC-V has a simple small set of instructions which means that end users aren’t burdened with the last 20 years of instructions added into something,” Redmond says. “It’s fully transparent so they can see where they can add on the custom or OS extensions that fit well for them.”
RISC-V is also focused on supporting developers with software. “Up to this year we were focused largely on hardware building blocks, and now we’re doubling down on the software ecosystem that goes around that, from the initial firmware code that talks to the hardware and the operating system, to the apps that ride on top of that,” Redmond says.
RISC-V vs ARM
The processor ISA market is primarily dominated by ARM and RISC-V. “ARM really has the market in IoT architectures and is now being challenged by RISC-V,” Ray says. “RISC-V is enthusiastically being adopted particularly in China where licensing technologies from other companies is difficult. It’s definitely growing in popularity and we expect it to be a big challenger to ARM for low-end devices.”
Both ARM and RISC-V, however, can support a broad range of use cases, from the smallest, most power-efficient endpoint devices to the most complex, high-performance device doing data processing and analysis at the edge.
ARM offers a variety of processors and licensing models designed to address the needs of any business, whether an established silicon partner, a more mainstream OEM or a startup. The company is no stranger to open source. Its embedded operating system, Mbed OS, is open source. “We’re open to looking at how we embrace open source hardware, but we have no plans to open source our processor architecture or processor design, and we don’t believe that’s what our partnership wants either,” Whitfield says.
Whitfield said the industry is moving to a fifth wave of compute, in which computing is moving to a distributed model. “We’re seeing an evolution where more processing moves out to the edge, and that means you need different kinds of compute engines and business models to enable people to innovate. Our partners talk more to us about how we can evolve technology to make sure we can solve the technology problems they have,” he says.