After less than half a year, Intel quietly kills RISC-V dev environment
Did Pathfinder get lost in sea of red ink? Or is Chipzilla becoming RISC averse?
Intel has shut down its RISC-V Pathfinder – an initiative it launched less than six months ago to encourage use of the open source RISC-V CPU designs.
Pathfinder was launched in August 2022. A joint press release from the 30th of that month includes a canned quote from Vijay Krishnan, general manager for RISC-V Ventures at Intel Corporation, who at the time stated: "With Intel Pathfinder, users will be able to test drive pre-silicon concepts on Intel FPGAs or virtual simulators."
"There should be tremendous value for pre-silicon architects, software developers and product managers looking to prove out use cases upfront in the product development lifecycle," he added.
Intel billed the service as "scalable from individual users in academia and research, all the way to large-scale commercial projects."
On December 1, 2022, Intel emitted an announcement of impending enhancements to the Pathfinder.
That document again featured Krishnan, this time quoted as saying "Maintaining a torrid pace of execution and fostering ecosystem collaboration are key imperatives for Intel Pathfinder for RISC-V." Next came a quote from Sundari Mitra, chief incubation officer, corporate vice president, and general manager at Intel's Incubation & Disruptive Innovation (IDI) Group: "We are excited to see Intel Pathfinder for RISC-V grow rapidly while continuing to adapt to market needs."
But in recent days a visit to pathfinder.intel.com produces only the following announcement:
We regret to inform you that Intel is discontinuing the Intel® Pathfinder for RISC-V program effective immediately.
Since Intel will not be providing any additional releases or bug fixes, we encourage you to promptly transition to third-party RISC-V* software tools that best meet your development needs.
And for what it's worth, Krishnan's LinkedIn profile lists his role as RISC-V boss ending in January 2023: he's now "GM, new initiatives."
We've asked Intel to explain the demise of the Pathfinder and will update this story if we receive a substantive response.
For now we must therefore speculate about the reason for the decision, which looks odd given that Intel has pumped cash into RISC-V CPU designer SiFive, pledged a billion-dollar development fund for RISC-V development, joined RISC-V International, and promised to make “substantial contributions to the architecture's evolution.
Those moves were widely seen doing two things: bolstering RISC-V at the expense of the Arm ecosystem that trounced Intel as the colossal and lucrative smartphone market formed; and creating a potential pool of customers for Intel's foundry business.
- Qualcomm talks up RISC-V, roasts 'legacy architecture' amid war with Arm
- Brit chip company picks RISC-V for next-gen microcontrollers
- Alibaba, Tencent enlisted to help sanction-weary China build RISC-V chips
- Ubuntu continues expanding RISC-V support – now, the $17 Sipeed LicheeRV
Which sounds like just the sort of market-making stuff Intel has done for decades … back when it wasn't bleeding revenue and posting losses as it did last week.
But with Intel mired in financial strife, perhaps it just can't afford ongoing RISC-V boosterism.
Yet Chipzilla's Form 10-K – an annual filing detailing its disposition and risks the business faces – lists "new entrants developing Arm- and RISC-V-based products customized for specific datacenter workloads" alongside established competitors AMD and Nvidia. Pulling Pathfinder means Intel now has one less tool with which to bring RISC-V developers closer.
And at least some of those developers appreciated Pathfinder.
"The program had gathered very good momentum in the RISC-V world, bringing a lot of the players together to ensure interoperability between RV cores, open source toolchains, operating systems and hardware platforms. Essentially reducing the barriers to entry in use of RISC-V and making it easier for people to get up and running quickly," wrote Hugh O'Keeffe, CEO of embedded systems development company Ashling.
"Let's hope it's just a bump on the road and the many other Intel RISC-V initiatives will continue," he added. ®
We're keeping an eye on Android and RISC-V after Google at the end of last year said it wanted the CPU family to be a tier-1 architecture in the mobile OS. That would put RISC-V on the same footing as Arm with Android – once the operating system, Play Store, apps, RISC-V-powered devices and whatnot are all ready, which could take a couple of years or so.