Do you perform mobile or virtual gaming? How dare I asked such a silly question. Of course, you would have definitely done in your spare time. Am I right? But do you know, how does any smartphone or any gaming console able to perform this herculean task? Any guesses? It is a processor. Right now there are very few technological giant companies responsible for this and they all are foreign companies. But, soon there will be an Indian company join this elite list. The processor is named “SHAKTI”. Which company is this and what is this, you will get all the information in this article regarding this. So, without any further ado, let’s get started.
What is SHAKTI?
SHAKTI is an open-source project, initiated by the RISE group at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Madras), the project is lead by Neel Gala with the coordination of Prof. V. Kamakoti, G S Madhusudan and their team. This project is not only focusing on building open-source processors but also associated components like interconnecting fabrics, verification tools, storage controllers, peripheral IPs, and SoC (System on Chip) tools.
It is fabricated at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Semi-Conductor Laboratory in Chandigarh, making it the first RISC-V processor completely designed and made in India. Prof Kamakoti announced at the introduction “The 180nm fabrication facility at SCL Chandigarh is crucial in getting these cores manufactured within our country.”
Another important part of the SHAKTI processor is that it’s less vulnerable to systems infected with backdoors and hardware Trojans. Because of that, IIT Madras says it’s safe to be adopted by the government agencies, nuclear power plants, and even defense groups.
The source code of all the components of the SHAKTI processor is open. This means any user can freely use, modify and circulate the source code without having to sign any National Defence Agency licenses or even notify the authors as long as the license header file remains. The SHAKTI program itself will not assert any patents and thereby removes the burden of paying royalties as well.
Rise of SHAKTI
Today, a fair share of the processor market is dominated by just a few technological giants like Intel, ARM, AMD, etc. Almost all of the IP offerings of these companies fall under a licensing model which varies significantly. For example, Intel licenses its ISA only to limited users like AMD. ARM, on the other hand, offers a broad of range of licenses from ISA to architectural licenses. Apart from just license fees, these companies also charge royalties on devices using their IPs.
Can SHAKTI beat ARM?
SHAKTI has just started its journey, so there can be no comparison between SHAKTI and a well-established ARM. However, the Project team of SHAKTI also denies such claims. According to sources, SHAKTI is already going into production with the first design in the control system of an experimental civilian nuclear reactor and will also deliver a whole host of IPs including the smaller trivial ones and also as needed bigger blocks like SRIO, PCIe, and DDR4.
Mr. G.S Madhusudhan is confident of starting a trend that will see India push the envelope in terms of CPU architects and design. “I have no idea how successful we will be, and I frankly do not care. What we will achieve (and have to some extent already) is – create a critical mass of CPU architects in India – create a concept to fab eco-system in India for designing any class of CPUs – add a good dose of practical CPU design know-how into the engineering curriculum – become one of the top 5 CPU arch labs around,” he adds.
Note: RISC-V is an open ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) developed as a project in 2010 by the University of California, Berkeley.
Types of processors
The SHAKTI project is building a family of 6 processors, based on the RISC-V ISA.
E Class: This is an embedded class processor, built around a 3-stage in-order core. It is aimed at low-power and low computer applications and is capable of running basic RTOSs.
C Class: The C Class is a controller class of processors, aimed at mid-range application workloads. The core is a highly optimized, 5-stage in-order design with MMU support and capability to run operating systems Linux and seL4. These processors are targeted at computer/control applications in the 500 MHz – 1.5 GHz range.
I Class: Equipped with performance-oriented features like out-of-order execution, multithreading, aggressive branch prediction, non-blocking caches, and deep pipeline stages. Target operating range – 1.5-2.5 GHz.
M Class: This is a mobile class processor with a maximum of 8 cores, the cores being a combination of C and I class cores.
S Class: The S-Class is aimed at Workstation and Enterprise server workloads. The base core is an enhanced version of the I-class, with quad-issue and multi-threading support.
H Class: The H-class SoCs configuration aimed at highly parallel enterprise, and analytics workloads. The cores can be a combination of C or I class, single-thread performance driving the core choice. These SoCs are optimized for up to 128 cores with multiple accelerators per core.
Note: T and F Class processors are the experimental processors.
Currently, SHAKTI is clocking at 400 MHz, DMIPS/MHz – 1.67, this isn’t by any means outclassing Raspberry-Pi performance (nor does it intend to). It is a test chip taped-out on Intel’s 22nm FinFET Technology. Furthermore, the fact that Linux was able to boot presents a proof of concept of design by which the project team could further move towards more production-grade SoC designs.
Note: The Raspberry Pi isn’t like your typical machine, in its cheapest form it doesn’t have a case, and is simply a credit-card sized electronic board.
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