LeapFive Eyes High-performance Realm with 1.8 GHz RISC-V SoC
Setting out to enter the high-end processing niche within RISC-V, startup LeapFive has unveiled a quad-core 1.8 GHz RISC-V SoC.
Chinese startup LeapFive recently announced the NB2 SoC, a RISC-V platform specifically designed to accelerate artificial intelligence applications (AI) with accelerated vision and audio processing capabilities.
The company claims the NB2 will be the first industrial grade SoC (system-on-chip) based on RISC-V, although no further details on when the chip will begin mass production are available as of yet.
In this article, we give an overview of LeapFive and share details on its new RISC-V SoC and some of its other offerings.
Betting on RISC-V
LeapFive is a nascent company, established in 2020 and hedging its bets on the future of RISC-V by focusing on developing SoCs using the open-source ISA for applications ranging from artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and security.
A rendering of the NB2 chip. Image used courtesy of LeapFive
LeapFive envisions playing in, not only RISC-V based SoCs, but RISC-V based operating systems, applications, and development tools.
While startups are always risky business, the opportunity to capitalize on RISC-V is being led by LeapFive founder, CEO, and CTO, Algaia Kong. Kong is an experienced CTO in Silicon Valley, having previously been Corporate Network CTO at Google and IoT Solution VP/CTO at Cisco.
Kong is particularly enthused about the possibility of tackling several global problems at once with RISC-V based SoCs, such as creating low powered processing platforms to reduce energy consumption and contributing to a more robust supply chain in an era of rampant chip shortages. She describes the current era of devices as “demand-defined software, software-defined hardware”.
A Look at the NB2 Chip
LeapFive’s new NB2 chip marries a RISC-V core with GPU, NPU, and CPU cores that enable the device to be used in a variety of applications such as edge computing, machine learning, vision,and voice, says the company.
NB2 SoC specifications:
- RISC-V 64-bit quad-core processor at 1.8 GHz
- 2.5 DMIPS/MHz
- 32 KB instruction cache and data cache
- 2 MB level 2 cache
- SiFive Shield for security support
- Hardware encryption engine
- DDR4/LPDDR4 with up to 4266 MT/s
- GPU at 850 MHz
- NPU at 1.4 GHz
- VPU supporting encoding/decoding 4K at 60 fps
- Over a dozen I/O options for IoT and edge computing
The NB2 chip’s architecture. Image used courtesy of LeapFive (Click image to enlarge)
LeapFive appears to have coordinated a strategic agreement with China Electric Power Research Institute to collaboratively develop a customized platform based on the NB2 that will be used for Power IoT and edge computing applications. Specifically, the two companies are tackling problems associated with massive data processing that often requires significant processing power, translating into high energy demands.
An application diagram for the NB2. Image used courtesy of LeapFive (Click image to enlarge)
Another apparent collaboration is between LeapFive and aitos.io, a data privacy company. Reportedly, the companies have collaborated on developing a platform for confidential computing, providing a more compact and lower powered option compared to secure servers.
In terms of edge computing and IoT, security is an important factor when handling and processing sensitive data, making the NB2’s integrated security features particularly interesting.
The NB2 SoC is meant to fill a gap that currently exists in the RISC-V eco-system, says the company. LeapFive points out that today 95% of RISC-V based chips are microcontroller (MCU)-level, primarily processing at speeds below 200 MHz, with a few candidates at speeds between 200 MHz and 1.5 GHz.
Other LeapFive Products
LeapFive has two other chips in its repertoire. The BF2 is primarily a Wi-Fi/BLE chip based on RISC-V, and a BF2 SDK is available for customers.
Architecture diagram of the BF2 chip. Image used courtesy of LeapFive (Click image to enlarge)
LeapFive also lists the GF2 chip and describes it as a “high-end security SoC”, although very little information is provided on the chip’s specifications or details.
LeapFive Looks Ahead to New Devices
According to LeapFive’s product roadmap, by 2024 there may be two new updates to the NB and GF SoCs, with higher data bandwidth capabilities for applications such as AI training.
LeapFive’s product roadmap. Image used courtesy of LeapFive (Click image to enlarge)
It will be interesting to watch LeapFive and see what role the company will play in the ever-increasing adoption of RISC-V, and particularly to see if their objective of a full-stack based on RISC-V will come to fruition.