A few days ago we
published an article
about the release of the world’s first laptop based on the RISC-V chip. They wrote in the comments that in the Russian Federation, most likely, they will begin to try to develop their own architecture based on RISC-V. As it turned out, this assumption is true – now there is information that Russia is planning to start developing chips based on this architecture.
Even earlier, there was news that the Russian industry would receive about 5.2 trillion rubles from the government and investors. This amount is planned to be allocated in installments until 2030. But so far it is not clear whether the domestic industry of production and development of electronics will receive something. The only thing is that it is known that the Ministry of Industry and Trade can allocate a subsidy for this project. Whether or not it will be singled out is still unclear. But in any case, the project seems to be quite real, and the Aquarius company will be engaged in the development of chips. Details are under the cut.
What kind of project is there?
As far as you can understand, the idea of its implementation is not new – Aquarius held negotiations with Russian suppliers of IP blocks for RISC-V back in 2021. Now this company is developing two projects in parallel, both are related to the development service chips. In the context of freezing cooperation with foreign companies like ARM, Imagination Tech, etc., RISC-V looks attractive to domestic electronics manufacturers.
The advantage of this architecture is that it is open, no permissions are required to use it, no license fees need to be paid, etc. In general, any company can easily use the developments of riscv.org by developing their own processor. There are also ready-made implementations of RISC-V, for example, from Alibaba. Among other things, the architecture allows for the creation of a heterogeneous computing environment with cores optimized for different types of computing working together in a way that is not familiar to humans.
Unfortunately, it is not yet known what status the projects are in and how far the teams responsible for their implementation have progressed.
It is clear that not only the Russian Federation is interested in RISC-V. For example, in China, the RISC-X architecture is being developed, which, as the name implies, is based on RISC-V. At the same time, like the basis, the new technology will be open and free, not only for the Chinese, but also for companies from any other countries. The Chinese think big, so the new architecture for them is a fallback in case the US tries to “excommunicate” them from RISC-V with the help of sanctions, despite the openness of this technology.
In addition, India is also working on developing its own RISC-V architecture. In the summer of 2022, the government of the country developed and announced a roadmap for the design and production of semiconductor components based on the RISC-V architecture. The company is going to supply world-class chips in large volumes by the summer of next year.
What can be done without TSMC?
As you can see, not so much. The fact is that Mikron can produce chips according to obsolete 90 and 65 nm technical processes. And this despite the fact that in the same China they have already mastered 14 nm and are now working on the mass production of chips based on 7 and 5 nm technical processes. As far as one can understand, in this case the range of tasks that domestic chips can perform will be quite narrow. These are communication systems, thin clients, cash registers, etc. The operation of such chips in more or less modern PCs, laptops and other systems is out of the question.
True, a factory is now being built in Zelenograd, which supposedly will be able to start producing processors using the 28-nm process technology. The factory is planned to be handed over to the state in 2024 – in any case, this is the period indicated in the plans. But, of course, this does not mean at all that it will immediately begin to produce chips.
The factory is being built as part of a large-scale plan for the development of the domestic electronics industry, the plan was approved two years ago, in 2020. The national project is designed until 2030. Its author is the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Russia, 22 working groups participated in the preparation of the document. According to the plan, the state plans to invest 3.19 trillion rubles in the project. The funds will be distributed in four main areas – for the development of infrastructure, domestic electronic products, increasing demand for it and the personnel component. But if these plans are realized, then not earlier than 2030.
The problem is that the domestic industry does not need hundreds of millions of chips, which are produced by the same TSMC. It is due to the volume that the cost of the chips is relatively low. If they are produced in tens and hundreds of thousands, the price may not be particularly attractive, since the domestic market is simply not ready to consume chips in volumes equal to Chinese indicators.
True, there is hope – for example, the Chinese manufacturer of lithographic installations Shanghai Micro Electronic Equipment plans to start producing lithographs for 28-nm and 22-nm manufacturing processes by 2023. The Chinese most often do what they say, so one can hope that such installations will indeed be available soon.
Not “Aquarius” alone
In fact, several domestic companies became interested in the development of RISC-V chips at the same time, including, for example, Yadro, which in 2019
51% of Syntacore processor developer. There is also Varton Investment Company (controls Baikal Electronics), which is also interested in the development of chips based on this architecture.
Interest in this area is also shown by F + tech and Open Mobile Platform, the developer of the domestic mobile OS Aurora.
The main thing is that all these initiatives should be continued in the form of practical work. Only in this case, we can expect success in at least partial import substitution of electronics. If you answer the question asked in the title, then the answer will be: “Of course, there is a chance of success, but it will be very difficult. It’s not impossible though.”