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Imagination Announces Catapult RISC-V CPUs

A graphic from the Imagination website
(Image credit: Imagination Technologies)

RISC-V, the open standard instruction set architecture provided under open-source licenses, has gained a new family of CPUs after the announcement by Imagination of its Catapult series of processors.

Catapult are Imagination’s first RISC-V cores — the company is perhaps best known for its PowerVR GPU chips — but its intention, announced back in August and set out at the RISC-V Summit, is to develop a complete suite of the little chips.

There's a whiff of Arm about the new chip family, as there are four different kinds of chips used in everything from microcontrollers to embedded CPUs and for running apps on the desktop to driving safety features in autonomous cars.

The microcontroller core, a simple in-order design, is already shipping in the automotive sector. An embedded core is also finished; it just isn't available in any products yet. The design supports up to eight cores in a cluster, but we've not yet seen any performance figures. 

According to Imagination's roadmap, an enhanced version of this basic core with Linux support should ship in 2022. Additionally, 2023 will see a higher-performing version. Around the same time, we should start to see a more complex out-of-order design too, which would be the first of the company's high-performance processors for desktop PCs.

Imagination is also pushing the idea of heterogeneous computing, where its existing GPU and neural processor designs will sit alongside the new CPU cores for customers who need different levels of processing ability in a single product. And if that sounds familiar, it's because Arm already does it: Imagination appears to be setting itself up as a direct competitor to the Raspberry Pi CPU provider. And who wouldn't want a piece of that market?