back to article India selects RISC-V for semiconductor self-sufficiency contest: Use these homegrown cores to build kit

India has announced a national competition to foster the use of the nation's homegrown RISC-V microprocessor designs in the hope the tech will eventually replace imported parts, and be used to create products in demand around the world. The contest's organizers argue India needs its own silicon to power all manner of things, …

  1. martinusher Silver badge

    Expecte fallout

    This business of the US demanding licenses for the export of technology from third party countries has a long history, It was a product of the Cold War and was very much in evidence in the 1980s when it caused things like the need to get export licenses from the US to sell semiconductors made in Scotland, memory packs made in Japan (and exported to Europe from the UK) and anything at all that included encryption. Common sense prevailed post-Cold War and the worst of the regulations stopped being enforced but those regulations stilll continued to exist, lying it wait for an opportunity to be used against a new 'enemy'.

    The only place this has really been an issue was with encrpytion. The heavy handed behavior of the US meant that any post-DES encrpytion standard had to be developed and standardized outside the US. Without this we'd require export licenses for anything that included encrpytion -- that's every wireless access point (and yes, I was an early developer in the US and, yes, we had to apply for export licenses for the kit because it included the RC4 cypher used with WEP).

    By dusting this off and applying this to what is essentially a commerical competitor the US has sent a very strong message that using any American technology in a product carries significant risk. What should have been obsolete regulations, regulations that applied to military and other sensitive technology, has been widened to include all techhology and the scope includes third party suppliers nominally not subject to US jurisdiction. This is the sort of thing that serves as a wake up call to nations -- they might have to put up and shut up in the short term but long term it will harm US business because without some cast iron guarantees that no maverick governemtn will pull a stunt like this ever again you'd be mad to buy or use anything American ever again.

    1. Jim Mitchell
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Expecte fallout

      Does the article anywhere say that this move by India is related to US export regulations? I'm confused.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Expecte fallout

        The situation with the USA versus China (via Huawei) is one wake-up all to many nations, but also India has an uncomfortable relationship with Chine (another obvious source of chips). Also as we have seen with all sorts of hidden features and weaknesses in the X86 and related management engines, if you want silicon you can trust you need it all to be under your control.

        And that is not just India.

    2. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Expecte fallout

      I remember working on stuff that had COCOM Cold War export restrictions on it, and suspicious Hundred grand orders for it going to residential addresses in London.

    3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Expecte fallout

      This is the sort of thing that serves as a wake up call to nations

      While bemoaning unassailable American dominance with my leftist commie liberal pals I sometimes thought that might be undermined through internal revolution.

      I never once thought America's downfall would be deliberately instigated by her president.

      Best. President. Ever.

  2. cbars Silver badge

    It sounds sensible

    But the thing that nags at me is that if all countries start using different chips, isn't that a wider attack surface...? The incumbents are riddled with hard to patch holes, are these going to be any better? At least with a low number of widespread vendors people like the Linux foundation were actually able to create software mitigations... not sure that will be true if everyone is running different hardware, open source or not. Can anyone more knowledgeable weigh in, does adopting the home-grown model actually reduce risk when it comes to Internet connected devices?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: It sounds sensible

      It will be interesting to see how this plays out. If the Indian government insists on an "all Indian" chip, then it is a real risk (if you pardon the pun).

      But if they follow on with it being truly open-source and collaborative, keep it that way in the Linux model, then everyone could benefit. The world gets a trustable and 'free' design to use, India has the pride of being its mentor, and other nations who do not trust the USA, China, etc, can take the design and bake their own silicon if they are weary of buying chips from others in case the real silicon is not quite as the VHDL release would suggest.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Does adopting the home-grown model actually reduce risk"?

      It could, if the design is formally verified. However, I'm only aware of VIPER (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VIPER_microprocessor), but there are no doubt others around these days.

      There is research being done in this area - for example : https://www.onespin.com/fileadmin/user_upload/pdf/technical%20articles/DVcon.pdf and https://verificationacademy.com/verification-horizons/march-2020-volume-16-issue-1/formal-verification-of-risc-v-processors.

      1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: "Does adopting the home-grown model actually reduce risk"?

        It could, if the design is formally verified.

        Unless you control the silicon foundries you have no idea whether the actual hardware is built to the proven design. Hardware back doors can be very small and spotting a handful of extra transistors and wires in a multi-billion chip design is difficult.

  3. trevorde

    Can't forgive, won't forget

    I used some FEA (Finite Element Analysis) software in the early 90s. It was from a US company and I had to sign an end user certificate to declare the ultimate destination of the software was not on a list of prohibited countries. Scanned through the list and there were the usual suspects eg Iran, Yemen, etc. but the one that stood out was Vietnam. Thirty years is a long time to hold a grudge.

    1. devTrail

      Re: Can't forgive, won't forget

      If you think that Vietnam stands out you probably didn't work in the banking sector. Even people working in the IT departments have to sign a paper whereby they promise to notify any suspected operation with prohibited countries from a list that includes Cuba. That makes 60 years to hold a grudge.

  4. devTrail

    Chip design is not enough

    Last time I had a look at RISC-V compilers and other tools were not fully developed. Those implementing the design had to do a lot of work by themselves. What is the status now?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Chip design is not enough

      RISC-V is supported by the Linux kernel and LLVM and GNU toolchains at least, which feeds into other projects.

      You can implement RISC-V cores in VHDL, SystemVerilog, nMigen, Chisel... There are plenty of professional-designed and homebrew open-source cores to look at and see for yourself.

      C.

  5. druck Silver badge
    Coat

    Which way around?

    Specifically, we're talking about two designed-in-India microprocessor designs, the 32-bit E-Class and 64-bit C-class Shakti, and the 64-bit Vega.

    As any Mercedes own knows, the E-Class is larger than the C-Class.

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