SiFive RISC-V Processors to Support Imagination PowerVR GPU and NNA IP Cores

RISC-V is getting more popular and mature as development progress, but if you want a system with RISC-V and a GPU so far you had to use a PCIe graphics card which is not cost-effective nor practical for most applications based on RISC-V processor. What is needed is some GPU IP that will glue with RISC-V core.

Developing a new GPU is not an easy task (understatement of the month) so it would make sense to go with solutions available on the market. However, Arm Mali is tied to Arm Cortex cores and Arm is unlikely to want to help RISC-V take away their market share, and Adreno and VideoCore are owned by respectively Qualcomm and Broadcom which are unwilling to provide their GPU IP to third parties. This basically leaves us with Vivante and Imagination.

Vivante may have made the most sense since open-source graphics drivers do exist (Etnaviv), but instead, I’ve just learned that SiFive added Imagination Technologies PowerVR GPU and NNA (Neural Network Accelerator) IP cores to its DesignShare ecosystem.

SiFive RISC-V PowerVR GPUDesignShare is said to reduce the upfront costs of acquiring IP for System-on-Chip (SoC) prototyping, and at first  Imagination’s PowerVR Series8XE GPU and PowerVR Series3NX NNA IP will be available for customers to use. The PowerVR GPU will be the first fully-featured GPU supporting the Vulkan API via the DesignShare ecosystem, and other API such as OpenCL, Android NNAPI, and SYCL should eventually be supported.

Both the PowerVR GPU and NNA IP cores are available now, which means the first RISC-V processors with an embedded GPU are likely to feature of PowerVR GPU.

Via EETimes.

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16 Replies to “SiFive RISC-V Processors to Support Imagination PowerVR GPU and NNA IP Cores”

    1. And what is that? Since they’ve now partnered with the most closed and RE averse graphical IP provider, one assumes it’s not to make an open source friendly SoC family.

      1. i suspect blu was being ironic. funny tidbit from sifive website:

        Our Mission
        SiFive brings the power of open source and software automation to the
        semiconductor industry

        1. Actually I was serious. First, whatever they do with IMG IP’s — that’s a checkbox in a SoC configurator. Second, that news transforms SiFive from ‘yet another RISC-V vendor’ into ‘a vendor to compete for the mobile segment currently owned by the RKs, MTs, AllWinners and the likes’. Last but not least, nothing is black and white — if you were choosing between a, say, MT with an IMG GPU, and a Freedom SoC with the same IMG GPU, you’d still get the Freedom advantages while being on equal grounds GPU-wise. So that step by SiFive is nothing but smart business. Ergo, SiFive know what they’re doing.

      2. >And what is that? Since they’ve now partnered with the most closed and RE averse graphical IP provider,

        What choice do they have? All of the SoC GPUs except the most basic framebuffer + 2D drawing operations are closed and drivers are all reverse engineered. The only vendor with a full opensource stack with what you’d expect like working 3D, HW video decoding etc that they support is Intel AFAIK.

        Although blu is the real life inspiration for MacGyver and probably knows more what SiFive should be doing with their business I think he’s probably over looked the really obvious issue that SiFive needs GPU offerings in their IP lineup and they have limited choices of where to get that IP.

    2. Oh yeah, they really know what they are doing. /s

      Open hardware with closed-source, shit-quality graphics driver to save some bucks on the graphics IP license.

      1. What would be your solution? No GPU? — Good luck with that! Strung-together simd cores and/or Vivante? — Good luck competing with current mobile state of the art with that!

        1. Things are progressing
          ” Swedish embedded software provider, IAR Systems, has recognised the increased adoption of RISC-V-based designs, with the introduction of a C/C++ compiler and debugger toolchain to support RISC-V cores. “

          1. And how that comment adheres to what blu said? Does IAR Systems has a GPU IP ?

            Back to SiFive.
            They need a GPU solution to embed now. Not next year, or decade. Open Hardware GPU is not an easy task and we’re yet to see a project like this with reasonable performance and production quality.
            This is a good move from business and open source perspective. Good RISC-V chip with competitive GPU will make SiFive an important player on market. And then they may start thinking about Open Hardware GPU.
            To design and start production of a modern GPU you need 10-20 mil USD. Especially if you’re starting from scratch and don’t want to use NDA protected IPs you have to design most by yourself.
            To start a project like this you need to secure funds first. Thus I’m totally fine with a chip that has an Open Hardware CPU and closed source GPU for now.

  1. How come, if ARM refuses to sell mali to competing platforms, i have an asus x86 based tablet here with mali m400?
    — the guy who kept people from wasting time on REing PVR.

    1. I believe they just overcharge for it so it only makes sense for large fabless that already licensed both IPs (like in the auto industry) and crossed the 50k units.

  2. There are technically a few more graphics IP licensees, but most wouldn’t be optimised for this kind of usage.
    For example, Matrox apparently offers licencing of its IP cores and source code, but by now most of that is quite outdated.
    It might also be possible to approach ZiiLabs, since they don’t seem to be doing any current hardware and they sit on a bunch of related IP.
    But yes, there aren’t too many options any more, which is also quite obvious when it comes to available products in the market. It’s most likely also one of the reason so many of the Chinese SoCs are stuck using very old GPUs, since it’s costly to license the IP.

    1. Are you suggesting SiFive’s product line would be better without an IMG option?

      ps: the (outdated) GPU was the only part that worked rather well in CI20.

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