RISC-V Market Trends And Predictions Till 2030

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Big players are turning to RISC-V, with plans for integration already in motion. Its adaptability in tailoring ISA extensions suits specific solutions in AI silicon development and multi-core SoC designs. Gaining momentum, RISC-V is challenging norms and democratising cutting-edge tech

The kind of flexibility that RISC-V provides designers has led to a revolution in the semiconductor industry. It is no longer a single party playing field. Multiple cores within a chip now originate from multiple parties (third party IPs).

With increasing computational complexity and decreasing chip size, Dennard’s scaling has begun to reach its limits. Dennard’s scaling is a guide for optimised shrinking of a semiconductor chip to enhance performance without increasing power usage.

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Fig. 1: Market revenues for all RISC-V SoCs by application, 2021-2030 (Source: The SHD Group, January 2024)

What is RISC-V?

RISC-V is an open standard instruction set architecture (ISA), a guideline on how software can instruct a processor. It is based on reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture. The RISC-V movement started at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010.

What’s so special about RISC-V anyway?—Its openness. RISC-V ISA allows designers to customise and extend this ISA to add specialised instructions and meet specific requirements of an SoC design. Now, who doesn’t want that!

RISC-V played a significant role in the post-Covid era’s recovery and growth of the dynamic semiconductor market. It has revolutionised system-on-chip (SoC) design strategies across multiple sectors, sparking extensive exploration of CPU architectures. This has significantly affected device revenues, unit shipments, design starts, and IP licensing revenues worldwide. Recently, the SHD group released its RISC-V Market Analysis Report, which predicted how RISC-V will fulfil the ever-growing chip demand.

RISC-V-based SoC market analysis

Market revenue

The RISC-V SoC market reached $6.1 billion in 2023, a growth of 276.8% over 2022. It is projected to grow to $92.7 billion (47.4% CAGR) by 2030.

With increasing support from software and EDA tools, SoC designers continue to gain confidence in adopting RISC-V to design IP solutions. RISC-V-based CPU cores will be increasingly included alongside competing IPs, as more powerful RISC-V cores emerge.

Key segments showing growth in RISC-V inclusion are consumer electronics, reaching $2.8 billion in 2023, computers at $2.1 billion, automotive at $0.45 billion, networking at $0.43 billion, and industrial at $0.2 billion. The rapid adoption of RISC-V SoCs is driven by the integration of RISC-V CPU cores into existing SoCs and by an established ecosystem.

Fig. 2: Market unit shipments for all RISC-V SoCs by application, 2021-2030 (Source: The SHD Group, January 2024)

With advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and artificial intelligence being integrated into automobiles, the automotive segment is undergoing a complete transformation.

Market shipments

RISC-V SoC shipments grew to 1.3 billion units in 2023 and are projected to reach 16.2 billion units by 2030, with a CAGR of 44%.

More IP vendors are joining RISC-V design support. RISC-V specifications are being incorporated into non-RISC-V products. This is primarily due to the level of customisation and cost-effectiveness RISC-V provides. As automation is applied to an increasing number of tasks, demand for chips customised for particular tasks is rising.

The consumer segment leads with 0.7 billion units in 2023, and is expected to reach 8.4 billion by 2030. The computer and automotive segments also show significant growth.

Fig. 3: RISC-V SoCs revenues by functionality category, 2021-2030 (Source: The SHD Group, January 2024)

Integration within functions

All SoCs have different CPU cores for different functionalities, including deeply embedded systems (finite state machines), microcontroller units (MCUs), co-processors, and host processors. RISC-V-based CPU cores are being integrated into various functions within SoCs for more efficient, customisable, and cost-effective solutions in applications including consumer electronics, networking, computing, and automotive systems.

The consumer segment sees the highest use of RISC-V-based FSMs and MCUs, while co-processors are increasingly used in AI-driven consumer devices. Host processors are key in running software applications across various platforms. The FSM function dominated in revenue in 2023 and is expected to remain the largest functional category by 2030, with other functions gaining ground as higher-complexity SoCs enter the market.

RISC-V CPU IP market forecast

Royalty revenues from RISC-V-based CPU IPs are expected to surpass its licensing revenues around 2027, with royalties reaching 1.5 times licensing revenues by 2030. As the IPs start coming from different vendors and in bulk, licence revenues or fees (permitting use of an IP) start reaching a saturation point. Meanwhile, as the IP is used in bulk, profit rises, and so does royalty revenue (a fixed percentage of profit earned from an IP).

The shift in revenue mix is due to increased shipments of SoCs with CPU cores in later years. This shift indicates that more companies are using CPU cores in their products and paying royalties based on their usage, rather than just licensing the IP.

CPU IP royalties reached $16.7M in 2022 and are forecast to grow to $968.1M by 2030, a CAGR of 60.2%. IP royalties are payments made by a licensee (someone who is granted permission to use the intellectual property) to the licensor (the owner of the intellectual property) for the use of that IP. These payments are typically based on a percentage of the revenue generated by the licensee from products or services that incorporate the IP. Royalties are often paid on a regular basis, such as monthly or quarterly.

CPU IP licensing revenues were $59.1M in 2022 and are forecast to reach $542.9M by 2030, a CAGR of 26.8%. Licensing revenues refer to the total income generated by licensing intellectual property rights to third parties. This includes not only royalties but also any upfront fees, milestone payments, or other payments made as part of the licensing agreement. Licensing revenues are the total financial benefit received by the licensor from the licensing of their IP.

The RISC-V market is dynamic and evolving, with new companies entering and introducing powerful CPU IP types. Constant innovation and the introduction of new CPU cores push the ratio between royalty and licensing revenues higher for RISC-V.

Effect of AI

AI is significantly impacting silicon design and creating opportunities for RISC-V-based SoCs. Even with the current boost in chip manufacturing, the demand for AI chips is not being fulfilled. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who is looking to venture into chip manufacturing, recently said that current chip manufacturing is not able to withstand the growing AI adoption. The popularity of AI applications like ChatGPT is changing how computers are used and driving the demand for high-performance silicon. This demand presents a significant opportunity for RISC-V designs, especially in PCs, laptops, tablets, industrial, consumer, and automotive markets.

Recent advancements

Fig. 4: Penetration of RISC-V SoCs by revenue of device types, 2021-2030 (Source: The SHD Group, January 2024)

China’s reliance

China is leveraging the RISC-V architecture to counter US sanctions and advance its semiconductor industry, with significant investment in RISC-V projects and a mature ecosystem. RISC-V chips, increasingly used in various applications, are closing the performance gap with Arm chips. China’s military and research institutions are developing RISC-V technologies, contributing to the country’s push for technological self-sufficiency.

Quintauris

After RISE, Quintauris GmbH, a collaboration between major semiconductor companies like Bosch, Infineon, Nordic Semiconductor, NXP Semiconductors, and Qualcomm, has been established in Munich, Germany, to promote the adoption of RISC-V. The company, formed on December 22, 2023, aims to provide reference architectures and develop solutions for industries such as automotive, mobile, and IoT. Led by CEO Alexander Kocher, Quintauris plans to work closely with the RISC-V community to accelerate development and enhance the semiconductor ecosystem’s resilience.

Major wins for RISC-V
• Launch of RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE) and adoption by prominent CPU IP vendors
• Intel joining RISC-V International and collaboration between Qualcomm and Google
• Increased availability of EDA tools for RISC-V and enhancements in CPU cores
• Introduction of RISC-V based MCUs, MPUs, and SoCs by Renesas, Meta, and Alibaba
• Synopsys transitioning ARC CPU IP cores to RISC-V ISA

RISC-V SWOT analysis

Strengths

  • RISC-V is the first new CPU IP architecture in 15 years to gain significant market presence. The ecosystem is growing, with multiple companies developing products for all SoC design requirements, including major players like Synopsys.
  • The core ISA is fixed, but customisation through ISA extensions is possible and continually evolving. Low power consumption and increasing performance metrics are attractive to SoC designers for crafting powerful silicon solutions. Performance advances are closing the gap between RISC-V and the highest-performing CPU cores from competitors.
  • The RISC-V community is diverse, leading to the rapid emergence of new ideas and concepts. Competition fostered by innovation at this fast pace is propelling market growth. Companies are developing CPU IP cores in parallel and focusing on a full range of performance metrics. Support from software companies and EDA tools is increasing as the market grows.

Weaknesses

  • As a developing ecosystem, RISC-V has its weaknesses. Many small companies developing products have little to no track record in the market. Many of these companies are start-ups that must continually raise money for funding before revenue streams start, creating the possibility of high turnover and turmoil.
  • There is no overall cohesion in product development between companies, leading to some duplication of efforts. The ability to customise ISA extensions could lead to ISA fractionalisation if not managed by an entity like RISC-V International.
  • It will take time for the ecosystem to flesh out completely, while competitive ecosystems are already in place. Attracting software developer support is critical for success.

Opportunities

  • New, larger systems manufacturers are looking at RISC-V, with several already having plans for adoption. The heterogeneous nature of the SoC design landscape today presents a great opportunity for RISC-V to be adopted alongside other competing CPU cores.
  • RISC-V’s ability to customise ISA extensions provides great flexibility for designers, especially for domain-specific solutions. Its open nature allows for constant innovation, with new ideas surfacing all the time.
  • Architectural exploration and development of solutions for AI silicon favour the adoption of RISC-V CPU cores due to their low power envelope and rising performance metrics.
  • The relatively small size of RISC-V CPU IP cores allows for efficient die area usage, making them attractive to SoC designers developing SoCs with large core counts.

Threats

  • Concern over the open standard nature of RISC-V and confusion between specifications and implementations may lead to increased government oversight and overregulation. Overregulation may curtail collaboration and hamper innovation.
  • Market enthusiasm and momentum may dwindle over time before the ecosystem can be completely fleshed out. EDA vendors may shift focus away from RISC-V to favour other emerging technologies over time.
Fig. 5: Total RISC-V CPU IP market revenues, 2021-2030 (Source: The SHD Group, January 2024)

Advantages over proprietary ISA

The RISC-V ecosystem’s value lies not just in potentially lower licensing costs compared to traditional ISAs like Arm but in the broader benefits it offers to the design community.

Supplier independence

RISC-V software is largely independent of any hardware supplier, allowing customers to switch providers with minimal impact on their software tools or applications. This flexibility was not possible with proprietary ISAs, where changing ISAs meant a complete software overhaul.

Greater selection

RISC-V International coordinates the standardisation of the ISA but allows developers to customise their own extensions without needing to filter changes back through the association. This contrasts with proprietary ISAs, where a single company controls both the specifications and implementations.

Freedom to innovate

Closed ISAs restrict customisation, unless a customer agrees to an architectural licence with potential cost and constraints. RISC-V, as an open standard, can be obtained free of charge, allowing for innovation without the need for expensive licensing.

Quicker and greater innovation

RISC-V’s open nature means that innovations can come from multiple companies, each focusing on different markets and applications. This collective approach can lead to faster and more diverse innovations than a single company could achieve..

Risk-V

This is a computing era. Increased demand for automation, endless availability of connections, and to top it off, artificial intelligence has exploded the limits of what is possible. The expansion of IoT sensors, wireless connectivity, and embedded vision for industrial control have contributed to the growing demand in the semiconductor industry. There is growing demand for mobile bandwidth, FPGA data centre accelerators, and vehicle electrification.

The integration of AI into EDA tools, global 5G rollout, and legislative actions like the CHIPS and Science Act are also shaping the market. Although there is an x86 and Arm duopoly in the global semiconductor market, at this growth rate, RISC-V will indeed balance the market.

As the traditional proprietary chips fell short and the industry hit its worst during Covid, RISC-V came to the rescue. The heightened demand and open-minded innovators led to the increased adoption of RISC-V ISA. In a way, the risk they took led to this victory and the coming.


This article is compiled by Shivangi Kharoo based on the RISC-V Market Report by SHD Group.

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