Chennai (ISJ) – Motivated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Make In India" concept, a team of researchers at IIT-Madras plans to take on global-majors Intel and AMD in the manufacture of computer processors. India's first indigenous 64-bit microprocessor was designed and made by them as a secure hardware for the country's strategic sectors to replace existing foreign monopoly.
Named 'Shakti', means power, it is an open-source processor designed by the RISE group at IIT-Madras, which is building production grade processors and associated components like interconnect fabrics, verification tools, storage controls and peripheral IPs.
"The source codes of all the components of SHAKTI are open-sourced under the 3 part BSD license of University of California at Berkeley and will be royalty and patent-free, which means anyone can use, modify and distribute the code as long as it meets the license terms," Arjun Menon, one of the lead architects of the design programme told Indian Science Journal.
Menon said, this is the first such processor conceived, designed and made in India. "When you buy a processor available internationally, one really do not know what are inside it, like inbuilt bugs, any backdoors to take out data from your application, etc." He said, initially the project was launched to promote IT education to design a processor, as there is no practical or hands-on training material in public domain; everything is theoretical.
"We made it open-sourced, so that anyone can take the design and alter it to their specific application. Secondly, the user would also get to know how the processor actually works that might actually help to come up with new ideas," explained Menon. "Right now only the big players are making processors like Intel, AMD or ARM. Our objective was to develop an indigenous one, as India needs a processor for strategic and educational sectors."
The present processor is designed for industrial controllers and embedded class of applications.
The team made two processors – the first sponsored by Intel and manufactured at its Oregon facility in the United States. It was made on the Intel 22nm FFL technology. Currently available processors are of the size of 14 nanometres or 10 nanometres. This processor is capable of booting Linux kernel.
The second processor was manufactured at Semi-Conductor Laboratory, Chandigarh, India on 180nm technology node.
Commenting on the processor developed at IIT-Madras, Dr Kamakoti Veezhinathan, Senior Professor in the Department of Computer Sciences and Engineering at IIT-Madras said, the strength of the design is RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), which basically interfaces the software with hardware and vice versa. RISC-V has become an international benchmark – a foundation with close to 200 members, who have a commitment to use the ISA.
"The type of hardware we have made is today becoming internationally prominent. That's the first confidence for us to enter global market. Second, we have made it in two extreme technologies – the new 22nm (nanometre) at the Intel facility and an older 180 nm at SCL. These are two ends of the corner and the designs are working in both technologies, even beyond our expectations. Thirdly, when we compare our benchmark, it is even slightly better than contemporary processors of the same nature and applications and fourthly, after we have launched these two chips, at least 13 companies have come up and shown interest in it," said Dr Veezhinathan.
Dr Veezhinathan said, the team's philosophy is very clear – they don't want anyone to buy it, just because it is made in India, but it is very very competitive in terms of quality and performance at international standards. It will give the users the desired performance at a desired cost. It is aesthetically designed and will support all those functionalities of any contemporary system of processors, he added.
The team plans to scale up the processor version for high-end applications like computers to take on international players by a truly Indian version. They foresee a drop in prices of computers, once the desi version of processor is available in the country.
Currently, Intel and AMD are the major manufacturers of high-end computer chips and processors, whereas ARM has a major market share for processors for mobile applications.
India has emerged as the epicentre of consumer demand for electronic products fuelled by its strong economic fundamentals. The demand for high-technology products, specially electronic products has registered a significant growth and the demand for electronic hardware in the country is projected to touch USD 400 billion by 2020.
The government has identified Information Technology as one of 12 champion service sectors for which an action plan is being developed. To promote electronic manufacturing sector, the Union Government has come up with a National Policy on Electronics to 'create a globally competitive electronic design and manufacturing industry to meet the country's needs and serve the international market.
Image courtesy: Arjun Menon