Intel partners with RISC-V, invests $1B in foundry ecosystem

Chip giant goes from not invented here attitude to a more open mindset.

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Intel has joined RISC-V International association, an open hardware standards organization dedicated to designing and building ultralow-power processors. The news comes on the heels of another Intel announcement, that it is investing $1 billion in foundry services.

Bob Brennan, vice president of customer solutions engineering for Intel Foundry Services (IFS), will be joining both the RISC-V Board of Directors and Technical Steering Committee. Intel is also partnering with several RISC-V leaders, including Andes Technology, Esperanto Technologies, SiFive and Ventana Micro Systems.

The RISC-V ecosystem uses an open collaboration model, similar to how Linux and other open-source software products are developed. This is unique in chip design. Developers have freedom to design their processors for specific domains and industries. RISC-V started as a project at UC Berkeley and has gained many supporters, but Intel is by far the biggest supporter to back the project.

“We look forward to optimizing IP for Intel process technologies to ensure that RISC-V runs best on IFS silicon across all types of cores, from embedded to high-performance,” said Brennan in a statement.

Intel already offers Nios V processors based on the RISC-V design and has a deal with another RISC-V developer, SiFive, to create a new development platform, called Horse Creek, which will feature SiFive’s new Performance P550 cores. Intel has also signed up SiFive for its foundry service. So Intel’s interest and investment in RISC-V is only going to accelerate the development of RISC-V IP.

To help support this development, Intel is establishing a $1 billion dollar fund to support the foundry ecosystem and help chip companies develop both chips and packaging technologies. Intel says the fund will support multiple instruction-set architectures (ISAs), spanning x86, Arm, and RISC-V.

IFS is working on something called the Open Chiplet Platform. One of the goals of the fund is to advance the concept of 3D chiplet design where multiple different architectures are tightly integrated onto one die. In theory, that coulod mean chips with x86, Arm, and RISC-V cores all on one piece of silicon.

RISC-V’s Gain is Arm’s Loss

While there is no question that RISC-V comes out ahead in this deal, it’s another sign that Arm is losing serious ground. The protracted attempted acquisition by Nvidia, now canceled, has to have set Arm back significantly. It could not strike deals while the acquisition was pending, and its planned IPO could hamper things further.

That’s not to say that Arm processors are suddenly going to be swapped out of smartphones. Arm still enjoys significant support in the marketplace and among OEMs, and that isn’t going away anytime soon. But its momentum was seriously kneecapped over the past year, and RISC-V is taken full advantage of it. Expect a flurry of Arm deals in the coming months as it tries to regain momentum.

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