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Intel Offers $2 Billion for RISC-V Chip Startup SiFive: Bloomberg

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(Image credit: Intel)

According to Bloomberg's sources, Intel has offered $2 billion for startup chip designer SiFive, though neither company has officially acknowledged the offer. SiFive is the leading designer of chips based on the open source RISC-V architecture that has coincidentally attracted much more interest in the wake of Nvidia's ongoing acquisition of Arm for $40 billion. The reports of the possible SiFive acquisition come on the heels of SiFive's announcement that it will collaborate with Intel's newly-christened foundry services.

SiFive, most recently valued at $500 million, is reportedly considering takeover offers from multiple firms and it may still choose to remain an independent outfit. Much of the new interest in SiFive and RISC-V stems from firms 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 discards the traditional notion of licensing fees associated with designing chips around a certain ISA, as we see with Arm. The ISA is maintained by the non-profit RISC-V International organization comprised of more than 1,000 members in 50 countries.

RISC-V is most commonly used in microcontrollers and small, simple chips, which has earned it quite the industry uptake with companies like WD, which ships over two billion RISC-V controllers a year in its products. The RISC-V organization plans to evolve the standard to accommodate faster chips for high-performance applications in the future.

Chinese chip firms have shown a keen interest in RISC-V chip designs in the wake of US restrictions on their use of Arm designs due to US national security interests. Naturally, RISC-V's open source licensing, which eschews fees, and the fact that the company is incorporated in Switzerland and doesn't "take a political position on behalf of any geography" is enticing to Chinese firms. 

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger's recent announcement that the company would begin licensing its own x86 processor designs to other firms as part of its new IDM 2.0 initiative was surprising, and the company even revealed that it would be open to fabbing third-party Arm designs in its new custom foundry outfit, Intel Foundry Services (IFS).  

If the reports are true, it's natural to expect that Intel will look to add RISC-V designs to its own arsenal and also offer custom designs to customers of its new foundry services business, all of which ties in nicely with the company's pledge to help "re-shore" semiconductor manufacturing in the US. Having yet another ISA in the cannon might also help to fire back at Arm competitors, like Apple's M1 and AWS's Graviton2, in the future. 

Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • Yuka
    Goddangit...

    Oh welp...

    Regards.
    Reply
  • waltc3
    Makes sense as Intel doesn't seem to know where to turn for help in designing new, ground-up CPU architectures. My thought would be that Intel wants to enhance its controller business as Intel is a chip company, not just a CPU company--putting all that money into FABs means you have to keep them running making something, even if it isn't CPUs.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    waltc3 said:
    Makes sense as Intel doesn't seem to know where to turn for help in designing new, ground-up CPU architectures.
    There isn't any such thing as a fundamentally new CPU architecture anymore: compare AMD, ARM, Intel, IBM, etc. designs from the past 10+ years and you find many more similarities than difference regardless of ISAs. The only major difference between architectures is how much silicon and power gets allocated to each part of the pipeline and even that tends to be similar across the board since all instruction sets are affected similarly by cache hit rate, latency, branch prediction accuracy, re-order queue depth, etc. which are themselves dictated by typical software design.

    Software design is the biggest bottleneck.
    Reply
  • Flayed
    two billion that has got to be hard to turn down
    Reply
  • caseym54
    Because last time Intel revamped x86 instructions it went so well.
    Reply
  • nycnikato
    This would save the future for intel. The company is worth at least 6 billion in my opinion,
    Reply
  • VforV
    I would not stress about Intel's future... they would need to lose for years and years to actually have issues and worry about being done.

    As an AMD fan, I'm more worried about this leak, if it turns true and manages to exceed expectations:
    https://videocardz.com/newz/intel-allegedly-planning-raptor-lake-cpus-with-24-cores-and-alder-lake-hx-series-for-enthusiast-notebook-seriesYCRoo0tqJL4View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCRoo0tqJL4

    If MLiD is right as he's been many times in the past, looks like the competition will get fierce and although I want intel competitive, I prefer AMD winning, even by a bit - they still are the little dog in this fight (and vs nvidia too).
    Reply
  • NeoMorpheus
    Looks like they want to kill this in the same way they killed Alpha and how nvidia will kill ARM if allowed to buy it.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    NeoMorpheus said:
    Looks like they want to kill this in the same way they killed Alpha and how nvidia will kill ARM if allowed to buy it.
    RISC-V is open-source, SiFive is little more than the ISA's first of hopefully many recognizable adopters.
    Reply
  • Yuka
    InvalidError said:
    RISC-V is open-source, SiFive is little more than the ISA's first of hopefully many recognizable adopters.
    One key thing to note: the founder (one of them) of SiFive is one of the people that created RISC-V.

    Regards.
    Reply