India prepares RISC-V processors

January 29, 2016 // By Rick Merritt
An R&D division of the Indian government is in line to receive about $45 million before June to fund the development of its first 64-bit microprocessor. The project would become the second in India to design a CPU based on the RISC-V instruction set, following the Shakti designs in the works at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras.
The projects show the increasing sophistication of India’s semiconductor sector. However it’s not clear if either effort will result in commercially deployed products, and both face challenges retaining skilled chip designers at a time when engineering salaries in India are rising and job hopping is common.


If funding is released as expected, the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), a branch of India’s Ministry of Communications & Information Technology, could tape out a 64-bit RISC-V processor in about 30 months, said Biju C. Oommen, a senior manager in C-DAC’s chip design unit. The team consists of about 70 engineers who have designed a wide variety of 8- to 32-bit processors and SoC blocks.

The team has worked on chips for both government and commercial users ranging from an energy metering IC to a digital programmable hearing aid and an automotive controller. C-DAC was created in 1988 to develop supercomputers after the U.S. banned export of the systems to India and expanded to cover a wide variety of high tech projects.

The VLSI team plans to design a quad-core processor running at up to 2 GHz. “This is more complex than any other processor we have designed, we have not taped out anything beyond a 32-bit processor to date,” said Oommen.

The design could deliver variants for a wide range of public and private customers. Targets could include tablets or gateways for the Internet of Things.


C-DAC's planned Vega RISC-V core will ride standard ARM interconnects. (Image: C-DAC)
C-DAC's planned Vega RISC-V core will ride standard ARM interconnects. (Image: C-DAC)