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Intel joins RISC-V governing body, pledges $1bn fund for chip designers

Now that's a shot in the Arm

Intel is establishing a $1bn fund to support early-stage and established chip companies to develop innovative chip and packaging technologies.

The semiconductor giant is also opening its doors to companies who also need help with design and validation of advanced chips on all major architectures, including x86, Arm, and RISC-V. A goal of the fund is to advance the concept of 3D chiplet design for tighter integration of different types of processor cores within individual chip packages.

That is to say, Intel wants to fab chips that each contain multiple chiplet dies, with a mix of Arm, x86, and RISC-V cores on them, as each customer requires.

For example, some chip designs combine beefy Arm CPU cores with RISC-V management CPU cores, or want to include multiple dies made using different process nodes in a single package. Intel's factories are advancing into nodes that will support tight packaging of these kinds of hybrid chips into single processor packages.

"Foundry customers are rapidly embracing a modular design approach to differentiate their products and accelerate time to market," CEO Pat Gelsinger said in a canned statement.

"Intel Foundry Services is well-positioned to lead this major industry inflection. With our new investment fund and open chiplet platform, we can help drive the ecosystem to develop disruptive technologies across the full spectrum of chip architectures."

Intel has identified manufacturing as a priority for its future survival as Arm and RISC-V gain momentum in traditional x86 strongholds areas like servers. Intel is hoping the investments will pull more chip customers to use its factories.

The chip giant recently invested $20bn to open up fabs near Columbus, Ohio. It is also expanding manufacturing operations in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Ireland.

As part of that announcement, Intel on Monday also became a premier member of RISC-V International, which oversees the design and direction of the open-source instruction set architecture.

Intel said it will "optimize IP for Intel process technologies to ensure that RISC-V runs best on IFS silicon across all types of cores, from embedded to high-performance." A focus on RISC-V will be to leverage "advanced packaging and high-speed chip-to-chip interfaces," Intel said.

Chipzilla will also offer validation services for RISC-V IP cores optimized for manufacturing in Intel fabs. For that, Intel is partnering with companies developing RISC-V chips, including Andes Technology, Esperanto Technologies, SiFive and Ventana Micro Systems.

Intel already backs RISC-V, embraces the instruction set architecture for its Nios-V FPGA, and put SiFive's RV64 P550 CPU cores into a 7nm evaluation system.

The full SiFive RISC-V processor portfolio, including the recently announced SiFive Performance P650 core, is now available to customers of Intel's Foundry Servies customers, SiFive said in a statement.

Getting Intel's commitment will provide an avenue for RISC-V companies to get actual chips in hand, and commercialize products faster. Many fabless companies can quickly patch together a design, but getting a fab to manufacture those can be a bottleneck in getting products to market.

“Open collaboration in RISC-V has already ignited a profound shift in the semiconductor industry, and this partnership will accelerate innovation in open computing," said Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V, in a statement.

In an earlier interview with The Register, RISC-V International chief technology officer Mark Himelstein said the organization is looking to add more manufacturers to the RISC-V Exchange, a sort of bulletin board where can find developer boards and design service providers. The cost of making a RISC-V chip will depend on the design, service provider, and volume, he said. ®

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