SiFive has raised $50.6 million in a third round of funding to further its ambition to create a new licensing model for the semiconductor industry.

San Francisco-based SiFive wants to democratize access to custom silicon chip designs. The company’s founders invented RISC-V, a free and open instruction set architecture for modern microprocessors. SiFive is taking that architecture and making it easy to design the custom variants that companies need.

So far, the RISC-V foundation has dozens of member companies, including Google, HP Enterprise, Microsoft, IBM, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung, Microsemi, and others. SiFive has developed its Coreplex IP (intellectual property) that others can license as they design their own processors and computing systems based on RISC-V.

The investment was led by existing investors Sutter Hill Ventures, Spark Capital, and Osage University Partners. New investors include Chengwei Capital, SK Telecom and Western Digital as well as unnamed strategic investors. To date, SiFive has raised $63.8 million.

Additionally, the company also announced it has signed a multi-year license to its Freedom Platform with Western Digital, which has pledged to produce 1 billion RISC-V cores.

Above: SiFive founders Yunsup Lee (left), Krste Asanovic (middle), Andrew Waterman (right).

Image Credit: SiFive

“Over the past two years, SiFive has been at the forefront of the RISC-V ecosystem,” said Stefan Dyckerhoff, managing director at Sutter Hill Ventures and member of the SiFive board of directors, in a statement. “Sutter Hill Ventures is confident that SiFive will continue to provide innovative solutions that will fundamentally change the semiconductor industry.”

This investment will enable SiFive to continue to bring its potentially disruptive RISC-V technologies to the marketplace.

In October, SiFive Unveiled its latest core IP, Freedom U54, the industry’s first commercial 64-bit, multicore RISC-V IP with support for Linux. Four months later, the company demonstrated working Freedom U54 silicon and announced the availability of the HiFive Unleashed development board.

Lauterbach also partnered with SiFive to bring TRACE32 support for high-performance RISC-V cores, providing multicore debugging on individual hardware threads of SiFive cores and enabling debugging right from the reset vector.

SiFive previously outlined its DesignShare Model, which gives any company, inventor, or maker the ability to harness the power of custom silicon. DesignShare partners provide low- to- no-cost intellectual property to emerging companies, lowering the upfront costs required to bring a custom chip design based on the SiFive Freedom
platform to realization.

Companies that have joined the DesignShare economy include Analog Bits, eMemory, FlexLogix, Microsemi, Rambus and ThinkSilicon, among others. SiFive hopes to triple its headcount.

“We are honored by the continued partnership with our investors and energized by new engagements with longtime industry leaders,” said Naveed Sherwani, CEO of SiFive. “This funding from our investors and licensing agreements with strategic partners establishes a strong financial foundation which will help us to continue our trailblazing path of engineering innovations and extend our market leadership around the world.”

SiFive founders Krste Asanovic, Yunsup Lee, and Andrew Waterman created RISC-V as a new instruction set architecture (ISA), just as Intel and ARM have their own ISA. But rather than having just one company own the ISA, the RISC-V creators made their ISA open and free to use. The company monetizes it through customization and support, much like Linux companies do with their open source operating systems.

In their first six months of availability, thousands of HiFive1 and HiFive Unleashed software development boards have been purchased by developers in more than 50 countries. Additionally, the company has engaged with multiple customers across its IP and system-on-chip (SoC) products and shipped the industry’s first RISC-V SoC in 2016, as well as the industry’s first RISC-V IP with support for Linux in October 2017.