While ARM is the leader of the processor architecture and instruction sets, a startup might be up for a bit of a challenge. ARM is well, something big, and besides Intel’s x86, ARM basically enjoys no competition! But the startup, known as SiFive, which has been around for 4 years, is using RISC-V architecture to develop new CPUs. And one of the investors is Qualcomm!
Why is that a big deal? Well, because Qualcomm is one of the biggest customers of ARM. And for them to financially back a direct competitor is a surprise, to say the least. Of course, RISC-V is not really a direct competitor, as it cannot they can’t go head to head with mobile and phone processors. Currently, the chips based on RISC-V are only used in IoT devices, smart-watches, wearables, and such. But definitely not mobiles and tablets.
Should ARM be worried? Well, not right away. When it comes to mobile and phone processor architecture, it’s way ahead. But SiFive is also developing rapidly, and it’s getting more and more successful in terms of collection of fundings. This is all rapidly boosting RISC-V’s development, and this can be a threat to ARM in the long run.
This is because, ARM (and other similar companies like MIPS) charges royalties for use of their designs, patents, and copyrights. Also, they require non-disclosure agreements before releasing documents that describe their designs’ details and instruction set. And in most cases, they don’t even describe the reasons behind their design choices.
All this secrecy makes the development of new hardware and software more difficult. Sure, a company, when it develops new tech, it is entitled to issue patents or copyrights. After all, it’s their hard work! But if we look at the development of technology as a whole, this is not a good thing. Also, the secrecy prevents security audits to those companies. In addition, this makes modern, high-quality general purpose computer instruction sets non-available for general usage.
RISC-V was designed to overcome those problems. It is an open-source platform usable in any software or hardware design without royalties. Plus, the explanations of all the project are explained as well. Since RISC-V designers planned to support a wide variety of practical uses: small, fast and low-power implementations, this project is more like a community effort.
So, the company SiFive is developing new processors using the open source RISC-V architecture. And with such funding and development, this new architecture might become more prominent and threaten a part of ARM’s standings. Of course, that’ll take time. But nothing is unlikely. Especially, when your investors are the likes of Qualcomm, Intel, and even Samsung!