May 9, 2018 // 10:47 a.m.
Intel Capital, the venture capital arm of the eponymous chip maker, has announced its latest investment round - and there's an interesting entry in the list: RISC-V focused start-up SiFive.
Founded in 2015 by Krste Asanović, Yunsup Lee, and Andrew Waterman, three of the University of California at Berkeley researchers who came up with the fully-open RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA), SiFive has proven a force to be reckoned with in the semiconductor industry. Founded with the aim of allowing customers to purchase off-the-shelf RISC-V chips as well as building their own custom RISC-V parts without onerous licensing terms, SiFive recently launched a Linux-compatible single-board computer aimed at developers and confirmed it will be assisting with the technology for the billion-plus RISC-V cores to ship in Western Digital products over the next two years.
Now, though, it has an interesting backer: Intel, a company with which - on the surface - SiFive is aiming to compete, challenging its proprietary and proscriptive business practices with something considerably more open.
'RISC-V offers a fresh approach to low power microcontrollers combined with agile development tools that have the potential to help reduce SoC development time and cost significantly,' claims Raja Koduri, senior vice president of the Core and Visual Computing Group, general manager of edge computing solutions, and chief architect at Intel Corporation - a clever concentration on RISC-V implementations in a market Intel has long failed to conquer, while carefully ignoring the range of high-performance implementations beginning to hit developers' desks. 'SiFive's cloud-based SaaS [Software as a Service] approach provides another level of flexibility and ease for design teams, and we look forward to exploring its benefits.'
'We have long led the call for a revolution in the semiconductor industry, and believe SiFive, and our technologies, demonstrate a significant path forward for the industry,' adds SiFive chief executive Naveed Sherwani. 'This investment by Intel Capital will enable SiFive to empower any individual or company to produce a silicon solution that meets their needs, quickly and affordably.'
The exact amount invested by Intel Capital into SiFive, which earlier this year picked up former Intel vice president Sunil Shenoy to lead its hardware engineering division, has not been disclosed, beyond it being part of a $72 million investment package spread across 12 start-up companies.
This article has been amended to clarify that SiFive has licensed it technology, in the form of the Freedom Platform, to Western Digital, but will not be physical producing the cores as previously implied in the opening paragraph.