SiFive has added Imagination Technologies' PowerVR GPU and neural network accelerator (NNA) IP cores to its design platform, making it the first fully-featured GPU IP to be available in its design ecosystem for developing RISC-V based chips.

Speaking to EE Times at the company’s RISC-V tech symposium in Cambridge, Krste Asanovic, co-founder and chief architect of SiFive, said, “There are a diminishing number of suppliers in the GPU space, and we are very pleased that Imagination wants to work with us on that. There are other GPUs out there, but they are tied to a specific vendor and not available as IP. So if you wanted to go build a RISC-V based SoC that had a GPU on it, there were pretty limited choices up until now. I think this will open it up for our customers who need a GPU.”

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The PowerVR GPU will be available via the Vulkan applications programming interface (API) in SiFive’s DesignShare ecosystem; the latter features pre-integrated IP from multiple vendors to ease prototyping of systems-on-a-chip SoCs without having to pay upfront license fees.

Imagination’s PowerVR Series8XE GPU and PowerVR Series3NX NNA IP will be available for customers to use in their DesignShare SoCs, with the expectation of further Imagination IP being made available in the future to meet market demand. The PowerVR software has been designed to work with all processor architectures, including the rapidly growing, open standard RISC-V that is at the heart of the SiFive DesignShare ecosystem.

Imagination said that joining SiFive’s DesignShare ecosystem was an easy decision, since the platform is an innovative approach to addressing customer challenges when designing new SoCs. The company added that by joining DesignShare, it would be helping customers overcome barriers and enable them get to market quicker with pioneering products.

RISC-V Traction

Asked about increasing involvement of the company in the RISC-V community, a spokesperson for Imagination Technologies told EE Times, “Imagination has a long history of providing IP that works across many processor cores. We recognize that there is great traction for RISC-V in a number of our target markets. We want to provide a comprehensive solution for customers choosing RISC-V and our involvement with SiFive is an important part of that because of their innovative DesignShare approach.”

Earlier this year Imagination announced it was working with CPU IP supplier Andes Technology to integrate the N22 RISC-V MCU IP from Andes with Imagination’s Ensigma low-power IP for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, IEEE 802.15.4 and GNSS to provide a fully integrated, off-the-shelf solution for the internet of things (IoT) market. The combined Imagination and Andes solution is aimed at applications including home automation, health devices, location tracking, sensors, smart meters, security and wearables. This is based on it low power consumption, long wireless connectivity ranges and processing power capable of running IoT software stacks.

The companies already have a shared customer, however the product is not yet ready to be announced.

Andes said its customers have cumulatively shipped 3.5 billion SoCs. In 2018, there were 1 billion shipments containing its CPU IP, covering a wide range of applications. Examples are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), audio, Bluetooth, gaming, GPS, IoT, MCU, sensor fusion, SSD controllers, touch screen and TDDI controllers, USB 3.0 storage, voice recognition, Wi-Fi, and a wireless charger.