Against Arm? Intel plans to acquire Sifive
According to Bloomberg, Intel has given $2 billion to start-up chip designer SiFive, though neither company has officially acknowledged the offer. SiFive is a leading chip designer based on the open-source RISC-V architecture, which coincidentally attracted more interest after Nvidia’s ongoing $40 billion acquisition of Arm. Reports of a possible SiFive acquisition come after SiFive announced it would be partnering with Intel’s newly named foundry service.
SiFive, which was reportedly recently valued at $500 million, is considering takeover offers from multiple companies, and it may still choose to remain independent. Much of the new interest in SiFive and RISC-V stems from companies looking to avoid any potential pitfalls due to Nvidia’s potential control of Arm.
RISC-V is an open source instruction set architecture (ISA) for RISC chips that does away with the traditional notion of licensing fees associated with designing chips around a specific ISA, as we’ve seen with Arm. ISA is maintained by the non-profit RISC-V International, which consists of more than 1,000 members in 50 countries.
RISC-V is most commonly used in microcontrollers and small, simple chips, which has made it widely recognized in the industry by companies such as WD, which ships more than 2 billion RISC-V controllers in its products each year. The RISC-V organization plans to develop the standard to provide faster chips for high-performance applications in the future.
Chinese chip companies have shown strong interest in RISC-V chip designs after the U.S. restricted the use of Arm designs out of national security interests. Naturally, RISC-V’s fee-avoiding open-source license and the fact that the company is incorporated in Switzerland and does not “take political positions on behalf of any region” are attractive to Chinese companies.
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger recently announced that as part of its new IDM 2.0 initiative, the company will start licensing its own x86 processor designs to other companies. Surprisingly, the company even revealed that it will be more interested in internal Open to making third-party Arm designs.
If the reports are true, it’s natural to expect that Intel will seek to add RISC-V designs to its arsenal, as well as offer custom designs to customers of its new foundry services business, all in line with the company’s commitment to help in the U.S.” Re-support” semiconductor manufacturing. Adding another ISA to the cannon could also help push back against Arm’s rivals like Apple’s M1 and AWS’ Graviton2 in the future.
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