Intel's tilt to foundry opens a door to upstart RISC-V technology

SiFive, a startup that has been developing intellectual property for chips based on the RISC-V standard, said Intel will make its designs available to Intel's foundry customers.

Recently appointed Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger Tuesday said he will lead the company to being a "world-class foundry" to make chips for other companies, incuding Intel's competitors. 

That vow could open the door to a newer technology that could even displace some Intel products, the open-source RISC-V chip standard developed at the University of California at Berkeley. 

SiFive, a chip startup that has for several years been developing intellectual property using RISC-V, announced in conjunction with Gelsinger's talk that it is working with Intel to make the RISC-V designs availabe to customers of Intel's Foundry Services Business.

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"I am excited to see Intel's new Foundry services business (IFS) in the U.S. and Europe increase the opportunity and choice for the semiconductor industry," wrote SiFive CEO Patrick Little in a blog post

"We're pleased to see Intel recognize the utility and opportunity for the RISC-V instruction set architecture in partnering to enable SiFive's industry-leading Core IP portfolio to enable a new wave of leading-edge technology."

RISC-V, invented a decade ago by Berkeley professors David Patterson and Krste Asanović. The standard allows any party to freely change the instructions that software programmers use to tell the chip hardware how to operate, the so-called instruction set of a chip.

That open-source standard flies in the face of the closed instruction sets of Intel, known as x86, and the ARM instructions used in the vast majority of chips, licensed by ARM Ltd., a division of SoftBank Group that is being sold to Nvidia.