We're closing the gap with Arm and x86, claims SiFive: New RISC-V CPU core for PCs, servers, mobile incoming

As it appears Intel's attempt to gobble the upstart collapses

SiFive reckons its fastest RISC-V processor core yet is closing the gap on being a mainstream computing alternative to x86 and Arm.

The yet-unnamed high-performance design is within reach of Intel's Rocket Lake family, introduced in March, and Arm's Cortex-A78 design, announced last year, in terms of single-core performance, James Prior, senior director of product marketing and communications at SiFive, told The Register.

San Francisco-based SiFive didn't provide specific comparative benchmarks, so you'll have to take their word for it, if you so choose.

RISC-V is an open-source, royalty-free instruction set architecture for CPU cores: RISC-V International sets the specifications, and semiconductor designers like SiFive implement them as designs that can be slotted into system-on-chips for customers among other IP.

SiFive's latest design, which is set to be teased today, will be christened with a formal name at the RISC-V Summit in December.

The CPU core is said to be about 50 per cent faster than its predecessor, the P550, which was introduced in June. We note that the L3 cache memory capacity has been quadrupled, from the 4MB in the P550 to 16MB in the new design. Up to 16 of these new cores can be clustered versus the maximum of four for the P550. The latest design can also run up to 3.5GHz compared to 2.4GHz for the P550.

The new CPUs can go in PCs and servers, and be scaled down for mobile and embedded devices, Prior said.

It's been an action-packed week for RISC-V. Intel, which is already testing and evaluating the P550 chip design, was said to be in talks to acquire SiFive, though Bloomberg reported today those negotiations fell through. SiFive declined The Register's request for comment on that, calling the reports of a proposed takeover "media speculation."

Alibaba also open-sourced a bunch of RISC-V CPU designs under an Apache license.

SiFive's new CPU core otherwise doesn't have much of an architectural difference from the P550, Prior said. The core design is a superscalar out-of-order 64-bit affair that supports the usual things like double-precision floating point. The chip retains a modular design to which additional acceleration units like vector processors or GPUs can be attached within a system-on-chip.

The processor blueprints also have the hooks onto which interfaces for DDR5 RAM and PCI-Express 5.0, which are supported by the latest Intel Alder Lake chips, can be added. But that will depend on whether a customer wants to include those features in their custom system-on-chips, Prior said.

SiFive provides a web-based design tool so folks can tweak a RISC-V CPU core to their needs, and get the corresponding RTL data for evaluation on FPGAs. Customers can tack on accelerators for AI applications and other IP to eventually form a design for a system-on-chip ASIC for manufacture, if they so wish, in conjunction with SiFive. The new CPU core is set to be available from SiFive's online configure-it-yourself tool from next year.

"We'll offer an RTL deliverable in 2022, that you'll be able to run on FPGA models, begin prototype software development, and modeling as you understand exactly how it works," Prior said.

Loads of companies now are looking to design, or have designed and deployed, their own customized chips to create a fully owned vertical stack, from the software at the top down to the hardware optimized for particular applications at the bottom. Apple transitioned from PowerPC and x86 to crafting Arm-compatible parts for laptops and desktops, and boasted how its homegrown M1 Pro and M1 Max Pro silicon can deliver high performance and longer battery life than Intel-compatible rivals.

SiFive has more than 100 customers, including some of the top technology companies in the world we're told, looking at its designs. Alibaba open-sourcing its own RISC-V cores in this space is good as it could generate a lot of interest, force the pace of development, and spur RISC-V innovation, Prior said.

But anyone can offer free cores, and with the trend to customizing processors for particular types of workload, there's more interest in what can be done with a chip to achieve that as well as providing support and software stacks around it, he continued.

"Having it tested and verified on silicon, and a tool chain to go with support, for people call up and say 'how did you do this?' – that is the inherent value of an IP company like SiFive," he said. ®

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022