Synaptics, best known for making the touchpads which grace the overwhelming majority of the world's laptops, has become the latest big-name company to telegraph a move to the burgeoning RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA), in partnership with SiFive.

Designed to offer an open alternative to proprietary instruction set architectures (ISAs) in fields as diverse as ultra-low power embedded and high-performance compute, the permissively-licensed RISC-V is drawing considerable attention of late. As well as various startups and academic efforts, some major companies - Nvidia and Western Digital among them - have either begun to ship or announced they are planning to ship products which feature RISC-V cores.

Human interface device specialist Synaptics can now be added to that list, having partnered with RISC-V specialist SiFive - whose own cores are proprietary, though based on the open RISC-V ISA - to create a custom processor for its products in, the companies claim, just two months, using SiFive's Core Designer platform.

'SiFive's Core Designer allowed our design team to get direct, hands-on access much earlier in the process and enabled us to rapidly optimise our configuration,' claims Prashant Shamarao, vice president for product development at Synaptics. 'We were impressed by the robustness and completeness of SiFive Core Designer as well as the support we received.'

'We are proud to partner with an industry leader in human-machine interfaces,' adds Naveed Sherwani, SiFive chief executive. 'Our Core IP [intellectual property] is well suited for high-performance embedded solutions, and Synaptics' experience with our Core Designer showcases the rapid innovation and time-to-market the platform enables. We foresee more solutions like this moving to a cloud design.'

Open ISAs are getting interest in another field, too, though this one is less welcome: Earlier this week Palo Alto Networks' Unit 42 security division announced new variants of the Mirai malware which had been compiled for novel ISAs, including among them the RISC-V competitor OpenRISC which has reached market in devices including selected Samsung digital TV products.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04