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RISC-V leader gains $50 million in funding and Western Digital vows to build 1 billion chips

Apr 2, 2018 — by Eric Brown — 1361 views

SiFive has raised $50.6 million in Series C funding, and Western Digital pledged to produce 1 billion of SiFive’s RISC-V cores. Meanwhile, the new Linux 4.16 kernel boosted RISC-V support, and there are rumors of a RISC-V project led by Google, Qualcomm, and Samsung.

The open source RISC-V computer architecture project has continued to generate buzz since SiFive opened pre-sales in early February for its Linux-friendly HiFive Unleashed SBC, which showcases SiFive’s RISC-V based Freedom U540. Today, SiFive announced it has received $50.6 million in Series C funding, and has signed a multi-year license to its Freedom Platform with storage giant Western Digital, which pledged to produce 1 billion of SiFive’s RISC-V cores (see farther below).



HiFive Unleashed (left) and Freedom U540 block diagram
(click images to enlarge)

In other RISC-V news, Kernel.org and the Linux Foundation just released Linux 4.16, which adds additional support for RISC-V, building on the initial support provided by Linux 4.15. As Phoronix notes, there are still no device drivers. However, the expanded support includes bug-fixes, basic ftrace support, ZONE_DMA32 support, and TLB shootdown changes.

Perhaps the most significant RISC-V news was reported last week by the paywall protected site The Information, which claims that more than 80 tech firms, including Google, Qualcomm, and Samsung, have create a consortium to co-develop an open source, RISC-V based chip design “for new technologies like autonomous vehicles.” As summarized by Seeking Alpha, the report suggests that the agreement could pose a significant challenge to Softbank-owned Arm Holdings, whose proprietary chip designs power almost all Android smartphones, as well as a growing number of embedded devices. The story added that Tesla had joined the RISC-V Foundation, and that Western Digital’s development of RISC-V chips would replace chips built on Arm IP.

 
SiFive gets major backing

SiFive’s new $50.6 million Series C round brings the total investment in SiFive to $64.1 million. The investment is led by existing investors Sutter Hill Ventures, Spark Capital, and Osage University Partners, and joined by new investor Chengwei Capital. SiFive also announced “strategic investors” including wearable device firm Huami, as well as SK Telecom, Western Digital, and other companies.

The testimonial quote provided by Western Digital CTO Martin Fink suggests that his company may be using higher-end Linux-driven SoCs such as the Freedom U540 rather than RISC-V based MCUs such as the Freedom E300 chips. The latter have appeared in an Arduino ready HiFive1 dev kit and Arduino Cinque board.

Stated Western Digital’s Fink: “RISC-V delivers a platform for innovation unshackled from the proprietary interface of the past. This freedom allows us to bring compute closer to data to optimize special purpose compute capabilities targeted at Big Data and Fast Data applications. The next generation of applications like Machine Learning, AI, and Analytics require this ability to focus on a specific task. Western Digital is focused on the next generation of innovation to enable this new class of applications to deliver the possibilities of data.”

According to SiFive, HiFive1 and HiFive Unleashed development boards have so far been deployed in more than 50 countries. The Crowd Supply campaign for the Linux-driven, open source HiFive Unleashed SBC has closed after raising $141,700.

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