All the innovation that’s been going on around compute from edge to cloud has been so far for the purpose of developing processors with more and more horsepower. Several years back SiFive Inc. entered this conversation with RISC-V, an emerging alternative processor architecture and is now leading in it with a potential alternative for ARM system IP. In a briefing with Phil Dworsky who is the Global Head of SiFive’s Strategic Alliance, we talked about RISC-V and how SiFive is planning to shape the future of compute with it.
An Introduction to RISC-V
A relatively young technology, RISC-V (pronounced risk-five) is an open-source instruction set architecture (ISA) built for RISC chips. The biggest differentiator of RISC-V is that it does not require a licensing fee which is standard with most ISAs. In its case, the ISA is maintained by RISC-V International that is a non-profit outfit.
Used commonly in microcontrollers and chips, RISC-V has been a widely adopted technology in the past few years with the likes of WD using RISC-V controllers in large scale for their products. RISC is short for Reduced Instruction Set Computer, the principles on which RISC-V is based. Using a load-store architecture, RISC-V works in a wide range of applications, from embedded systems to high-computing servers with vector processors in data centers.
SiFive, from the Pioneers of RISC-V
SiFive, a chip designer company in the US is led by the very same people who founded RISC-V International that is headquartered in Switzerland. Now a very familiar name in the ISA space, it is an independent outfit that has collaborations with multiple industry leaders, including hundreds of design wins at 8 out of the top 10 semiconductor companies. Only six years old, SiFive is already valued at $2.5 billion. In March, the startup raised a whopping $175 million in Series F funding which shot its net worth up from $500 mil in 2021 to 2.5 billion in 2022.
One of its newest collaborations is with Intel whose foundry services (IFS) it will be collaborating with, SiFive announced in 2021. In addition to this, it has entered into partnership with companies like BrainChip and Renesas for joint development of technologies and solutions in edge AI. Deep Vision and Tenstorrent are two of the most prominent names that have adopted SiFive RISC-V, integrating it into their technologies for performance boost.
Now targeting a 2x headcount in a short span of just 18 months, the company is all set to trigger hypergrowth by hiring in large numbers. One of SiFive’s key members on board is Rohit Kumar, who formerly led the engineering team at Apple and is known for the shining success of Apple M1.
A Closer Look at SiFive’s Portfolio of Processors
In June, SiFive Performance debuted with two core, P270 and P550, the first Linux capable and the then highest performing processor in their portfolio, respectively. This was followed up by the significantly higher performing P650. According to SiFive, this new member in the Performance family is “expected to be the fastest licensable RISC-V processor IP core in the market” and has over-the-top performance per milliwatt. Building on the performance of the first two, the P650 delivers significantly more performance per cycle and targets bigger market segments like automotive, edge and data centers.
SiFive Intelligence, a software + hardware solution, is more focused on AI. A high-performance scalable AI processor with extensions and AI focused capabilities, the Intelligence is built for Edge AI, Cloud, ML inferencing and such high compute works that require parallel performance and efficiency.
Overall, SiFive’s CPU and AI cores powered with RISC-V are a great investment choice simply because they cater to all classes of performance and efficiency. Both pre-configured to serve common use cases and flexibly configurable for specific ones, the SiFive’s line of high-end cores bring to the consumers, formerly underserved, a rich variety of choices in high-performance processor IPs. Thanks to Phil Dworsky for the briefing and Emilie Kemp for setting it up.