Huawei's HiSilicon Develops First RISC-V Design to Overcome Arm Restrictions

By Anton Shilov

CPU

(Image credit: Panasonic)

In a bid to overcome US restrictions on its Arm designs, Huawei's HiSilicon has turned to the open-source RISC-V architecture and has even released its first RISC-V board for Harmony OS developers. Due to being blacklisted by the U.S. government, Huawei and its chip division HiSilicon do not have access to development and production technologies designed in America. The restrictions include many Arm processor architectures, including those used in various microcontrollers that Huawei uses widely.

HiSilicon's HiSilicon Hi3861 development board is based on the company's own Hi3861 controller. Huawei's documentation doesn't disclose exactly what the chip does, but it describes it as a main controller chip. The Hi3861 chip is accompanied by a serial port controller as well as a USB-C port. Among the more important aspects, the Hi3861 seems to have all the logic that enables USB-C functionality (e.g., synchronization and port alignment) and GPIO (general-purpose) pins. 

HiSilicon

(Image credit: HiSilicon)

Overall, the HiSilicon Hi3861 development board has rather vast (at least Raspberry Pi-like) capabilities, but not for a world that Huawei's HiSilicon is used to, at least in terms of public opinion.

HiSilicon

(Image credit: HiSilicon)

The Hi3861 is aimed mostly at the IoT market, whereas HiSilicon's development efforts were historically aimed at high-margin smartphones, tablets, PCs, and embedded systems. But Huawei needs computing platforms to use for its other devices, so the HiSilicon Hi3861 is just what the doctor ordered at this time.

When it comes to high-volume products made by Huawei, a non-Arm-based chip makes exceptional sense and also gives the company experience working with an open-source architecture. Only time will tell if the company uses its RISC-V experience to develop other, more powerful devices.