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India's homegrown microprocessors claim 'generation minus one' benchmarking

India's homegrown microprocessors claim 'generation minus one' benchmarking

  • 3rd Apr 2024
  • Digitimes

India's Shakti and Vega microprocessors, developed by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), are on par with global counterparts in performance, according to V. Kamakoti, Director of IIT Madras.

"Regarding the benchmarking, we're operating at what you could call "generation minus one" compared to the latest contemporary microprocessors," Kamakoti said, in a recent conversation with Digitimes Asia. "This means we've achieved what those processors did two to three years ago."

The processors represent a significant advancement in the country's tech ambitions, as the government continues to boost the sector with various incentives and subsidies.

"The benchmarks depend on various factors, including the specific silicon and Process Development Kit (PDK) used," Kamakoti continued. "We're very close to, and in some cases better than, contemporary microprocessors according to benchmarks like CoreMark, which is widely used for embedded systems. I'm highly confident in our competitiveness."

Integrating with existing solutions
Several startups in India are now leveraging Shakti for various applications, from security to SoC development, highlighting the architecture's flexibility and adaptability to specific needs. These include Mindgrove Technologies and InCore Semiconductors. Kamakoti added that they are also trying to integrate the processor into existing IoT and other solutions.

"Currently, we are awaiting silicon prototypes from startups," Kamakoti said. "There was a time when our efforts were met with skepticism, but perceptions have shifted significantly. We've progressed from being underestimated to engaging in discussions with various entities. This change underscores the importance of tangible results, which is why we emphasize internal development and execution. Such an approach not only builds trust but also showcases our capability to innovate without external intervention."

One of the startups associated with IIT Madras is currently working towards launching their microprocessor chip. Kamakoti expects that once this chip is released and its booting process along with other functionalities are demonstrated, there will be more traction, as it will serve as a commercial proof of concept.

"Many of us are navigating the tapeout process for the first time, without extensive guidance," Kamakoti added. "Yet, reaching this stage of development is a testament to the potential within our projects. This journey from initial doubt to recognition has been crucial. We believe our message of innovation and resilience is now clearly understood, as evidenced by the increasing interest and engagement from the community."

Evolution of the project
The Shakti project was initiated primarily to explore and ascertain the existence of a processor development ecosystem within India. The project's goal was to validate the country's capability in developing a microprocessor ecosystem, covering everything from the initial instruction set architecture (ISA) to design, backend processing, manufacturing, packaging, and support for board and processor booting processes.

"From 2013 to 2017, we engaged in numerous unfunded projects, largely managed by students," Kamakoti said. "During this period, we committed ourselves to the RISC-V architecture, confident in its potential for significant success-a belief that has proven to be well-founded. By late 2017, around October or November, we received our initial funding of close to one million dollars. This funding was allocated to the design and development of three chips.

"Before presenting this technology as a viable option to startups, it was crucial to demonstrate its effectiveness from concept to silicon, acknowledging the considerable difference between theoretical designs and practical, tangible results."

Consequently, three processors were developed. These processors, classified into C and E classes, were successfully manufactured and tested. They ran Linux and several software applications, performing exceptionally well in all tests.

Following this success, in collaboration with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the Swadeshi Microprocessor Challenge was launched.

The challenge was open to students of all educational levels and startups, encouraging participants to engage with indigenous Processor IPs. The goal was to leverage these homegrown technologies to create cost-effective solutions addressing societal needs.

This initiative attracted over 10,000 participants, forming around 500 teams, which were eventually narrowed down to the final shortlist. The challenge spurred a wide range of publications across diverse fields such as health, agriculture, drones, and more, showcasing the versatility and potential applications of these indigenously developed processors.

"These initiatives were undertaken with the goal of fostering a robust ecosystem within the country, particularly aimed at startups, and to produce products that could be consumed globally across various industries," Kamakoti added. "For instance, startups could manufacture automotive chips that would be utilized by major companies, contributing to a diverse and expansive industrial landscape. This approach was designed to establish a thriving ecosystem conducive to innovation and growth."