Startup SiFive Aims for Open-Source Chips

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2016-07-11 Print this article Print
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The second lineup of chips, the Freedom Everywhere family (Freedom E300 Series), targets such markets at the Internet of things (IoT), wearable devices and microcontrollers. The RISC-V cores used in the SoCs are designed for efficiency and support the RISC-V compressed instructions, which can reduce code size by as much as 30 percent. They're designed using TSMC's 180nm process.

They'll both offer a level of customization that is not available now, the SiFive officials said. Intel is expanding its custom chip capabilities, but they're primarily aimed at larger hyperscale players, while Advanced Micro Devices is seeing most of the success of its semi-custom chip business coming from gaming consoles from Microsoft and Sony. ARM designs chip architectures, and then licenses those designs to partners such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Applied Micro and AMD. ARM-based architectures run in most smartphones and tablets, and some vendors are pushing the low-power designs for data center systems.

IBM has opened up its Power architecture and launched the OpenPower Foundation to drive adoption of the chips.

The RISC-V effort is quickly gaining support from some big names. Included among the more than 40 members of the RISC-V Foundation are Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM, Microsoft, Nvidia, Oracle, Qualcomm and AMD.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, said he expects the idea of open-source processor development will eventually gain steam.

"Over the next five to 10 years, this concept makes sense to me, but not necessarily right now," Moorhead wrote in an email to eWEEK. "A lot of things have to come in place for it to become a reality, namely a fluid interaction between the designer, intellectual property and the fab [chip manufacturing facility]."



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