April 3, 2018 // 11:18 a.m.
SiFive, a company founded by the creators of the RISC-V open instruction set architecture (ISA), has announced it has secured another £36 million in funding for a to-date total of £45.6 million - cash it is going to use to provide a billion RISC-V cores for Western Digital.
Founded in 2015 by Krste Asanović, Yunsup Lee, and Andrew Waterman, three of the University of California at Berkeley researchers who originated the RISC-V ISA, SiFive's approach to the semiconductor industry is an interesting one. Like Arm, the company runs fabless; unlike Arm, however, the core of its technology, the RISC-V ISA itself, is entirely open and available for all to use and exploit. SiFive operates by taking this open ISA and creating off-the-shelf and customisable implementations, allowing companies to design and produce semi-custom processors, microcontrollers, and system-on-chips (SoCs) at a fraction of the cost of traditional vendors and their proprietary IP.
The company's latest round of funding - by far its biggest yet - comes on top of the news that it has signed an agreement with storage giant Western Digital to provide the RISC-V cores for its future products. Announced in November last year, Western Digital's plan is to replace proprietary architectures - Arm, x86, and MIPS - in its storage products with RISC-V equivalents, now to be based on SiFive's Freedom platform, with a view to shipping a billion cores within the next two years.
'RISC-V delivers a platform for innovation unshackled from the proprietary interface of the past. This freedom allows us to bring compute closer to data to optimise special purpose compute capabilities targeted at Big Data and Fast Data applications,' claims Western Digital's chief technology officer Martin Fink of his company's decision to focus on RISC-V. 'The next generation of applications like Machine Learning, AI, and Analytics require this ability to focus on a specific task. Western Digital is focused on the next generation of innovation to enable this new class of applications to deliver the possibilities of data.'
SiFive's latest design, unveiled in February, is the Linux-compatible HiFive Unleashed single-board computer (SBC), which packs a 64-bit Freedom U540 system-on-chip design with four 1.5GHz cores and a fifth lower-power management core.