Chip design firm SiFive has raised $175 million at a $2.5 billion as RISC-V emerges as an alternative processor architecture.

The funding comes at a time when RISC-V is showing greater momentum as an alternative processor architecture to those run by Intel/AMD and Arm.

SiFive is substantially accelerating the development of the company’s RISC-V products as it tries to broaden the reach of processors into multiple markets. SiFive is beefing up its future roadmap, and ecosystem to fulfill the potential that RISC-V has for SiFive’s customers.

SiFive’s founders were the pioneers of RISC-V, as they wanted to create a truly independent chip platform that embraced open source and modern chip design. After establishing the architecture, they founded SiFive six years ago as a company that designed chips based on the open-source RISC-V architecture.

RISC-V rack cluster

Today, RISC-V is firmly established as one of the major global compute platforms, with adoption all around the world, as evidenced by recent announcements including the Intel $1 billion innovation fund, featuring a goal of catalyzing the RISC-V ecosystem.

SiFive has more than 300 design wins with more than 100 customers including eight of the top 10 semiconductor companies, in applications ranging from automotive, client computing, data center, and hyper-scale servers. SiFive designed RISC-V-based chips that are built by other companies.

“The market has spoken and made it abundantly clear that RISC-V computing will be at the heart of all future computing platforms. As the founder and leader of RISC-V computing it’s our role to lead this ecosystem forward to take over the performance IP market from Arm and others,” said Patrick Little, CEO of SiFive, in a statement. “This valuation is a validation of our strategy and singular focus on building the best, high-performance, complete portfolio of RISC-V compute products in the market. Our customers are signaling strong demand for SiFive to deliver the highest level of performance as quickly as possible.”

To date, the company has raised over $350 million to fuel its designed for the top performance processor intellectual property market. SiFive will use the funds to invest in global hiring, new product development, and the software ecosystem.

Coatue Management led the round. It focuses on on high-growth investments in technology, media, and telecommunications in public and private markets. Coatue Management and Ibex Investors join existing investors Sutter Hill Ventures, SK hynix, Western Digital Capital, Qualcomm Ventures, Intel Capital, Osage University Partners,
Spark Capital, and Prosperity7 ventures. Also investing were AMD (through Xilinx Ventures) and Samsung Ventures.

In an interview with VentureBeat, SiFive senior vice president Jack Kang said that plenty of people asked why we needed another microprocessor architecture back when the company started.

“What do you mean? What is the point?” they asked, Kang said. “Now we can say that it’s going to be here, it’s going to exist. This funding shows the value of the RISC-V market and where it is going. As an independent standalone company focused just on RISC-V, reaching this level now means that the whole ecosystem is growing.”

Kang added, “There are going to be three compute standards: x86 [Intel and AMD], Arm, and RISC-V.”

SiFive
SiFive

And it will be a fight over which one dominates any given part of the processor market, he said.

“I believe that RiSC-V is the best positioned out of those. Unless you have a whole bunch of legacy software and you can’t move into anything new, then you are going to build for the open ecosystem. That is going to have the most innovation, the most competition, the most software.”

And he noted that the geopolitics of the world are making it clear why alternatives are necessary. RISV-V relocated its headquarters to Switzerland so it could be perceived as neutral. Countries such as China probably don’t want to be dependent on a processor architecture based in the U.S. (Intel and AMD) or the United Kingdom (Arm).

“You will never be blocked off from RISC-V,” Kang said. “China has absolutely committed to build on RISC-V.”

SiFive, meanwhile, is positioning itself at the high-end of the microprocessor market.

“If you believe in RISC-V, then the question is about how do I implement it,” and that’s where Sifive comes in, Kang said.

SiFive has about 750 employees, mostly engineers. The company has had success so far with customers shipping millions of chips in the WiFi, microcontroller, and storage controller chip markets.

Meanwhile, SiFive entered into an agreement for the sale of its OpenFive custom silicon business unit to Alphawave IP. Alphawave agreed to purchase the OpenFive business unit for $210 million in cash, and the transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2022 pending regulatory approvals. As part of the transaction, Alphawave has licensed SiFive’s RISC-V processor IP.

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