A startup called SiFive on Thursday announced a new processor design that could redesign mobile phones, cars and other digital devices if the company’s plans work. Its performance P650 design comes with 50% speed boost compared to the P550 coming in June.
The San Mateo, California-based company hopes its designs will offer a better balance of speed, battery life and cost thanks to a fresh start in chip engineering. The new approach comes from an effort called RISC-V, which is backed by university researchers and now many tech companies.
Even with significant support, it will be difficult for the RISC-V family to gain a foothold in an industry that prioritizes the broadest technological foundations. That’s why chip families like MIPS, Alpha, Itanium, PA-RISC have been excluded from the computing industry. Survivors, such as Intel and AMD’s x86 chips and Qualcomm, Samsung and Apple’s Arm chips, send millions each year.
But if SiFive succeeds with its long-term plans for the better, you could get a SiFive-powered phone in a couple of years.
“By 2023, you’re likely to see the first mobile phone with RISC-V,” SiFive chief executive Patrick Little said in an October interview. “I think we have a great shot at the phone.”
SiFive is one of the most prominent members of the RISC-V International Alliance, whose members collectively develop a variety of RISC-V processors. At the heart of the alliance is the RISC-V instruction set, a set of commands that the software uses to tell a chip what to do. Unlike the x86 and Arm, the RISC-V instruction set can be used and converted for free. SiFive develops RISC-V chip designs and licenses them to users.
Competing with Arm’s two-year-old Midrange Cortex A77 design, the P650 will soon outperform Qualcomm or other Arm designs in smartphones. C5 said consumers could start reviewing the design in the first quarter of 2022.
RISC-V Summit for RISC-V Chip Fans
SiFive announced its silence shortly before the RISC-V summit began on Monday. This is a collection of the largest ever collection of RISC-V chip fans. Google’s Titan M2 security chip has a RISC-V design. Apple is also exploring its RISC-V options.
RISC-V designs take the form of a relatively modern chip design approach called low instruction set computing (RISC), and in fact the RISC-V project began with an enlightenment co-created by RISC and David Peterson. ۔ Arm chips are also RISC designs. The software handles Intel x86 chips with older CISCs, or complex instruction set computing, technology, but in depth, even Intel chips use RISC technology.
An Intel chip called Horse Creek uses SiFive’s P550. But Bloomberg reports that Intel’s attempt to acquire C5 failed.
Another RISC-V startup is AI chipmaker Tenstorrent, whose chief technology officer is Jim Keller, a chip guru who holds positions at Intel, AMD and Tesla. Esperanto Technologies has unveiled an AI chip design with over 1,000 RISC-V processing cores.
Other RISC-V companies include AI chipmaker GreenWaves Technologies, Low power chipmaker Micro Magic and Chinese cloud computing giant Alibaba, which has released an open source RISC-V chip design that anyone can use.