Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel revealed as investors in SiFive, an ARM alternative
The leading RISC-based chip designer on the market is Cambridge-based ARM Holdings, which was originally co-founded by Apple. Both Qualcomm's Snapdragon chips and Samsung's Exynos chips are built using ARM architectures while Intel once produced ARM-based Xscale chips and remains and ARM licensee. So, it is particularly interesting to learn that all three companies are investors in SiFive a company that is focused on creating custom RISC-V chips, but with a focus on embedded IoT silicon.
What sets SiFive RISC-V silicon apart from ARM's is that it is an open-source technology originating out of the University of California, Berkley. ARM had considered SiFive to be a sufficient threat that it until recently had a webpage dedicated to anti-RISC V propaganda -- it was only at the request of ARM's staff that the company pulled down the page. Like ARM, SiFive is a fabless chip designer, leaving the fabrication to its partners.
SiFive appears to have caught the eye of Qualcomm, Samsung and Intel because it allows customers to rapidly design custom RISC-V chips in weeks instead of months of designing. This compares with ARM-based designs that can take six months or more to compile. Capping things off, SiFive says that it can deliver customers sample chips "within weeks" which undoubtedly helps to cut significant costs from the chip designing equation.
Could RISC-V help come to the rescue of Huawei? Possibly. Although, as a US-based company, Huawei wouldn't be able to use SiFive's chip designing technology. It could, however, utilize the RISC-V architecture as it is open-source, as is Google Android Open Source Project. That said, it isn't clear just how scalable RISC-V chips are and whether they would be suitable for high-end smartphones. Undoubtedly, however, it is an avenue that Huawei is likely exploring.
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