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Alibaba Designs Fastest RISC-V CPU

September 1, 2020

Author: Aakash Jani

The Xuantie-910 is Alibaba’s first RISC-V CPU core. It combines the RV64GCV architecture with custom arithmetic and memory operations. Although the immediate focus isn’t to replace Arm, the new CPU aims to advance the RISC-V portfolio and reach parity with the Arm instruction set. Alibaba plans to use it internally for applications ranging from industrial control to edge servers. In the spirit of the open-source architecture, it also plans to post the CPU design on GitHub, enabling other companies to freely access the core. The new design outperforms all RISC-V competitors and matches up well against midrange Arm cores.

The CPU employs many advanced features that appear in high-end x86 and Arm cores, including data-prefetch units, branch prediction, and 128-bit vectors. Its first implementation was in 2019 using an FPGA. T-Head, the semiconductor-design subsidiary of Alibaba, earlier this year received samples of its Wujian SoC with 16 Xuantie-910 cores running at 2.5GHz in 12nm technology, presumably from TSMC. This pace should lead to initial production of the processor early next year.

Alibaba’s Xuantie-910 is a big step forward for the RISC-V architecture. It appears to deliver more performance per gigahertz than any other RISC-V core on the market, and its ROB is among the largest of any RISC-V competitor. The Esperanto Maxion CPU, for example, has a ROB that is nearly 40% smaller, and it supports only one floating-point unit compared with two in the Xuantie-910. The additional FP unit and the large (for a RISC-V core) ROB allow the 910 to boost floating-point and vector performance, greatly benefiting AI and HPC workloads.

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