RISC-V processor designer SiFive attacks Arm

After a successful round of funding Double Unicorn: RISC-V processor designer SiFive attacks Arm

RISC-V pioneer SiFive has raised an additional $ 175 million from investors. The company is now valued at over $ 2.5 billion. With the industry’s heavyweight Intel behind it, the battle is now increasingly against processor IP market leader Arm.

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SiFive is increasingly competing with processor IP market leader Arm. Equipped with fresh capital, SiFive CEO Patrick Little wants to focus the company more on powerful designs for data centers and machine learning applications that promise greater profits.

(Image: SiFive)

RISC-V is emerging as a serious competitor to the processor IP provider Arm. The latest example: RISC-V pioneer SiFive was able to raise about $ 175 million in venture capital in a new round of funding. Investors are naturally convinced that the company will succeed in the market in the long run. The increase in fresh capital means that SiFive is now valued at over $ 2.5 billion – making it one of the rare “double unicorns” among tech start-ups.

With the latest round of funding, SiFive has doubled its total funding to $ 350 million in just six years. In addition to the global investment company Coatue, investors include industry giants such as Intel Capital, SK Hynix and Qualcomm Ventures.

An additional $ 210 million from the sale of OpenFive

In addition to this amount, SiFive will soon have access to an additional $ 210 million in cash as a result of the sale of its subsidiary OpenFive to Alphawave IP Group. OpenFive brings a high-speed connection System-on-Chip (SoC) IP portfolio and a team of approximately 300 with offices in India and Silicon Valley, which has been providing custom silicon solutions for over 15 years.

Both companies announced the deal on Monday; it should be ready in the second half of 2022. Alphawave is a developer of SerDes solutions and was first announced at its headquarters in London in 2021.

Focus on RISC-V core business

With the strong economic cushion behind it, SiFive wants to concentrate on its core business: the development of RISC-V-based processor cores and related technologies that can be licensed and integrated into e.g. system-on-chips. With this business model, SiFive is increasingly positioning itself as a competitor to Arm. This also includes building a comprehensive ecosystem around the open source processor instruction set RISC-V.

According to SiFive, it has already achieved design gains with more than 100 customers in applications such as automotive, AR / VR, client computing, data centers and intelligent edge – including several of the world’s largest hyperscale companies and 8 of the top 10 semiconductor companies.

Like Intel’s huge commitment to the RISC-V open source processor architecture, this development comes at a time when Arm, the leading processor IP licensor to date, is repositioning itself following Nvidia’s failed takeover to prepare for an IPO – among other things by a new management team and a leaner workforce.

Staff: From Arm straight to SiFive?

Interesting in this context: It is very possible that some – or possibly even many – of the up to 1,000 employees released from Arm will soon be employed directly by the future competitor. Because SiFive will use the funds from the sale of OpenFive explicitly to recruit new employees – including in Cambridge, of all places, Arms’ main location.

For Patrick Little, CEO and chairman of SiFive, the case is clear: “The market has spoken and made it very clear that RISC-V computing will compete for the heart of all future computing platforms.” Naveed Sherwani replaced as CEO at SiFive. Previously, as senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm, he was responsible for the company’s expansion into the automotive industry.

The founders of SiFive invented the RISC-V ISA in the laboratories of the University of California, Berkeley. The company’s business model is to develop designs with RISC-V and license them for money – very analogous to Arm’s. Last year, the company released the P550 processor – a chip core design designed to challenge Arm to smartphone chip dominance. With its out-of-order architecture with a 13-step pipeline, the 64-bit processor core designed for 7 nm processes is said to compute significantly faster than an Arm Cortex-A75. At the same time, according to an analysis from Lindsay Group, including level 1 and level 2 cache, it fills only about 43% of the competitor’s chip area, ”says Little.

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Intel emphasizes the importance of working with SiFive

He is strengthened – not surprisingly – by Intel’s Bob Brennan, Vice President and General Manager, Customer Solutions Engineering, Intel Foundry Services: “Intel believes in a multi-ISA strategy, including RISC-V as an open computing platform for future platforms”. Brennan first joined the board and technical steering group of the RISC-V Foundation in early February 2022.

It can be assumed that Intel will play a key role in determining RISC-V’s fortunes in the future. “Our IFS investment [Intel Foundry Services] in RISC-V includes a partnership with leading RISC-V developer SiFive to build the Horse Creek developer platform, which will be generally available in late 2022 based on Intel 4 process technology.

Based on RISC-V processors from IP provider SiFive, Renesas Electronics develops automotive controllers for driver assistance systems (ADAS), autonomous driving (AD), electric vehicles (EV) and connected gateways (CoGW).

IAR Systems is now expanding its RISC-V tools with 64-bit kernel support.

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