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Neha Narula
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VDC Research
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RISC-V Driving the Open-Source Hardware Revolution to the Edge & IoT, According to VDC Research
Embedded processor ISA alternative emerges to compete with Arm, Intel, and proprietary architectures

NATICK, MA | March 30, 2020 - RISC-V is transforming the IoT and embedded processor landscape and driving the open-source hardware revolution, according to VDC Research (click here for more information). Leading technology vendors such as Google, Microchip Technology, Micron Technology, Samsung, and Western Digital are adopting RISC-V as an important component of their roadmaps. While much of the architecture has been leveraged thus far for in-house development, the commercial market is growing in a number of areas as an alternative to Arm, Intel, and proprietary architectures.

“The openness and flexibility of the RISC-V architecture combined with a nascent commercial market has resulted in broad and diverse uptake of the ISA across different industries,” said Dan Mandell, Senior Analyst of IoT & Embedded Technology at VDC Research. The global market has focused to this point primarily on non-mission critical computing applications within the consumer electronics, industrial automation, and communications and networking sectors. “As the RISC-V architecture matures over the next several years and proves its capabilities in more domains for secure networking and real-time computing, consumer electronics will become progressively less dominant in the market in favor of vertical markets like automotive.”

Forecasted Global Shipments of RISC-V Processors Segmented by Processor Type, 2018–2023
RISC-V Driving the Open-Source Hardware Revolution to the Edge & IoT, According to VDC Research

According to VDC, the main competition for RISC-V will be alternative CPU architectures as well as potential fragmentation of its own specifications. “RISC-V will likely be used alongside Arm and other architectures for many initial implementations as an accelerator or co-processor to enable cost savings,” said Mandell. OEMs that leverage open-source RISC-V cores and IP can potentially license less of their system stack from third parties. Additionally, VDC’s research finds that implementations of system-on-chips (SoCs) are leading market revenues, followed by ASICs and FPGAs. Adoption and interest have been particularly strong among users of FPGAs/PLDs as well as FPGA SoCs, where the use of RISC-V soft cores is more easily implemented than dedicated hardware in ASICs and SoCs. The growing availability of RISC-V developer boards from different suppliers is critical to driving use of the ISA for prototyping with different open-source cores and tools by different types of developers and engineers.

“Interest in using RISC-V for IoT and embedded projects is widespread between users of different processor types, from different regions, and from organizations of various sizes,” said Mandell. “The embedded software and tooling ecosystems are responding to the resurgence of in-house and third-party IC/SoC design stimulated by RISC-V, which will expand support further for physical/virtual prototyping and emulation, code analysis, and other software development solutions,” explained Mandell. According to the results of VDC’s annual survey of the IoT & embedded engineering community, “CPU Performance” and “Programming Tools Available” are the most important characteristics when choosing an embedded processor for engineers and developers currently considering RISC-V for their projects.

While RISC-V may be a growing alternative to hardware based on proprietary and legacy architectures, its trajectory should not be directly compared to the proliferation of open-source software and Linux. “Launching new embedded hardware, especially processors, requires more capital and resources to come to fruition,” said Mandell. “Therefore, innovation will be focused on a relatively smaller pool of technology providers and processor types to start.” As open-source hardware finds its footing in the commercial processor domain, VDC expects several more heavyweight OEMs and semiconductor providers to add their support for RISC-V in 2020 and fuel broader adoption.


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About VDC Research
VDC Research provides in-depth insights to technology vendors, end users, and investors across the globe. Offering syndicated reports and custom consultations, VDC’s market research coverage of AutoID & Data Capture, Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices, Industrial Automation & Sensors, and IoT & Embedded Technologies is among the most advanced in the industry, helping clients make critical decisions with confidence. VDC’s methodologies consistently provide accurate forecasts and unmatched thought leadership for deeply technical markets.



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