Intel Pledges Support for RISC-V and “Openness in Technology”

February 09, 2022 by Jake Hertz

A major player has joined the effort to build out the world’s largest and most successful open-source ISA.

Since its foundation over 10 years ago, RISC-V has grown to be a significant force in the semiconductor industry. The organization has since grown to over 2,000 members, including big players such as Google, NVIDIA, and Qualcomm.

RISC-V International is in the headlines again this week with its announcement of the addition of another major member to the foundation: Intel. In this article, we’ll discuss the current state of RISC-V, what Intel is doing to bring to the table, and how RISC-V International will benefit from this new member.


Intel Brings Clout to RISC-V

Intel is arguably one of the most prominent semiconductor companies of all time—and the first to have commercialized the microprocessor. One of the major contributions on Intel’s part is that it will be making its silicon processes available to the RISC-V community through Intel Foundry Services (IFS). The goal, from Intel’s perspective, is to enable RISC-V designs to be optimized for IFS, allowing RISC-V companies to easily and efficiently create Intel-compatible designs. Intel also asserts that RISC-V will run "best on IFS silicon" spanning a number of cores from embedded to high-performance.  

Intel has stated that it will be working with industry-leading IP partners to develop IFS-optimized IP processes and packaging technologies. These partners include Andes Technology, Esperanto Technologies, SiFive, and Ventana Micro Systems. Together with these companies, IFS intends to produce CPU cores, chiplets, and other fully-packaged products across a range of markets. 


Target end markets for RISC-V designs

Target end markets for RISC-V designs. Image used courtesy of Semico Research and Intel

Beyond this, IFS said it will sponsor an open-source software development platform that will allow for development with the RISC-V ISA. Intel hopes the new platform will accelerate the growth and adoption of RISC-V among chip designers. 


Intel Foundry Services Joins Open "Accelerator" Ecosystem

On the same day Intel announced its new membership in RISC-V International, IFS also announced an "Accelerator" ecosystem alliance program. This program includes a group of 17 founding companies that will collaborate with EDA partners on enhanced tools and flows to bring chip designers better performance, power, and area in their designs. 

This Accelerator loops in companies like Ansys, Cadence, Siemens EDA, and Synopsys to collaborate on EDA solutions for both concept and high-volume silicon development. It also includes an "IP Alliance" of companies like Arm, SiFive, and Analog Bits to produce a portfolio of Intel process-specific IP. This group will focus on everything from embedded memories to analog IP. Finally, a team of design services partners, including Wipro and Capgemini, will help customers focus on innovative product ideas with the help of designers familiar with Intel technology.


Intel employee in a clean room

Intel employee in a clean room "bunny suit" at the company's D1X factory in Oregon. Image used courtesy of Intel


Like Intel's participation in RISC-V, this move is also said to support a "new era of openness in technology," according to Randhir Thakur, president of IFS.


How RISC-V Will Benefit From Intel's Support

An obvious benefit of this new collaboration between Intel and RISC-V International is RISC-V validation. By adding one of the top semiconductor companies in the world to the organization, RISC-V International has solidified itself as a genuine mainstay in the semiconductor industry.

Intel’s membership also may assuage fears that open-source hardware is not a feasible pursuit in an industry of closely-guarded secrets. Intel's membership in RISC-V International may also increase customer confidence and entice other companies to consider turning to RISC-V for future designs.


Modular architectures

Intel has expressed support in the move to modular architectures seen in system-in-packages, chiplets, and RISC-V designs. Image used courtesy of Intel

Beyond this, RISC-V benefits from the plethora of resources and IP that Intel brings to the table. By enabling RISC-V designers to optimize their designs for Intel’s processes, they are breaking down barriers of entry for RISC-V while also allowing for a streamlined path to market for designers. From the standpoint of fabrication, Intel is one of the largest semiconductor fabs in the world and can streamline RISC-V production using its processes—improving RISC-V accessibility even more. 


RISC-V—and the Open Technology Movement—Picks Up Steam

Once the brainchild of researchers at Berkeley, RISC-V is now moving toward widespread commercialization across the semiconductor industry. In fact, Semico Research estimates that by 2025, the industry will consume more than 60 billion RISC-V CPU cores.

While Intel has previously tapped RISC-V with its Nios V processors, the company's newfound commitment (via IFS) to RISC-V will make it the only foundry to produce IP for all of the industry’s top ISAs, including x86, Arm, and RISC-V. 

Intel is doubling down on opening up the foundry ecosystem beyond its RISC-V participation. This week, the company also announced that it is opening a $1 billion fund to create a "foundry innovation ecosystem." This fund has set aside investments to buoy startups, scale-up partners more quickly, and support IFS customers.