Intel invests in open-source RISC-V processors, creates billion-dollar fund

Intel and RISC-V working together is a game-changer, and today is the day that RISC-V becomes a chip power.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

RISC-V International, the global open hardware standards organization, has announced that Intel has joined RISC-V at the Premier membership level. Let that sink in for a minute. 

Intel, which has made billions from its closed-source, complex instruction set computer (CISC) x86 processors, is joining forces with RISC-V, the open-source reduced instruction set computer (RISC) CPU group. What next? Dogs and cats living together!?

Dr. David Patterson, co-creator of RISC-V, helped make it an open lingua franca for computer chips, a set of instructions that would be used by all chipmakers and owned by none. Today, Patterson said, "I'm delighted that Intel, the company that pioneered the microprocessor 50 years ago, is now a member of RISC-V International."

Why? Because Intel sees a future in which ARM, x86, and RISC-V all play major roles.  In particular, Intel has already seen strong demand for more RISC-V intellectual property (IP) and chip offerings. 

Intel's not just giving this idea lip service. Intel also announced a new billion-dollar fund to support early-stage foundry startups. Together Intel Capital and Intel Foundry Services (IFS) will prioritize investments in chip IP, software tools, innovative chip architectures, and advanced packaging technologies. Randhir Thakur, IFS President, said this new program will focus on two key strategic industry points: enabling modular products with an open chiplet platform and supporting design approaches that leverage multiple instruction set architectures including and spanning x86, Arm, and RISC-V.

Also: RISC-V CEO: Biggest opportunity to change computing since the 1980s

As part of these initiatives, IFS will sponsor an open-source software development platform. This will provide IP for all three of the leading ISAs chip architectures.

RISC-V has always provided open modular building blocks. Together, Intel and RISC-V will expand the RISC-V ecosystem and help drive its commercialization.

Bob Brennan, IFS's VP of Customer Solutions Engineering who's joining the RISC-V Board of Directors and Technical Steering Committee, said, "A rich open-source software and hardware ecosystem is critical for accelerating the growth and adoption of RISC-V and fully unlocking value for chip designers. Intel is delighted to support the growth of the free and open RISC-V instruction set architecture." 

Intel will also be working on optimizing Intel IP for to ensure that RISC-V will work well on all IFS silicon from embedded to high-performance cores.

Also: Linus Torvalds on how AMD and Intel are changing how processor interrupts are handled

Intel is already offering RISC-V chips; the company's Nios V processors are based on RISC-V. Moving ahead, Intel hopes its new RISC-V investment will speed up RISC-V's development.

Calista Redmond, RISC-V International's CEO, believes a "massive investment in open source has the power to change the course of history" and that collaboration with RISC-V has "ignited a profound shift in the semiconductor industry, and [the] partnership will accelerate innovation in open computing."

Redmond's not wrong. Intel and RISC-V working together is a game-changer. Today is the day that RISC-V goes from being an interesting approach to processors to being a chip power. 

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