Open RISC-V architecture startup SiFive raises $50.6 million to advance RISC-V based semiconductors
RISC-V (pronounced “risk-five”) is an open instruction set architecture (ISA) based on the established reduced instruction set computing (RISC) principles that date back to the 1980s. RISC is quite the opposite of CISC (complex instruction set computing) principles on which Intel first based its processors on. In contrast to most ISAs, the RISC-V ISA can be freely used for any purpose. This allows anyone to design, manufacture and sell RISC-V chips and software. The project first began in 2010 at the University of California, Berkeley. The RISC-V creators aim to provide several CPU designs freely available under a BSD license. The licenses allow derivative works, such as RISC-V chip designs, to be either open and free, like RISC-V itself, or closed and proprietary. By contrast, commercial chip vendors such as ARM Holdings and MIPS Technologies charge substantial license fees for the use of their patents.
One San Francisco, California-based startup is on a mission to democratize access to custom silicon chip designs. The startup, SiFive, is the leading provider of commercial RISC-V processor IP. SiFive was founded in 2015 by Andrew Waterman, Krste Asanovic and Yunsup Lee, the creators of the free and open RISC-V architecture, as a reaction to the end of conventional transistor scaling and escalating chip design costs. By leveraging the power of open-source and agile hardware design, SiFive reduces the cost and time to harness the performance and energy-efficiency of customized silicon, enabling a wide range of applications from IoT to hyper-scale computing – all unified by the common RISC-V platform.
The company announced in a release that it has raised $50.6 million in a Series C round led by existing investors Sutter Hill Ventures, Spark Capital and Osage University Partners alongside new investor Chengwei Capital, and strategic investors including Huami, SK Telecom and Western Digital and other companies that are among the most respected and iconic companies in the industry. This Series C round brings the total investment in SiFive to $64.1 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.
This investment will enable SiFive to continue to innovate and provide leadership in bringing highly disruptive RISC-V technologies to the marketplace. “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. “Sutter Hill Ventures is confident that SiFive will continue to provide innovative solutions that will fundamentally change the semiconductor industry.”
Said Martin Fink, chief technology officer, Western Digital: “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.”
This Series C financing comes amid continued milestones for SiFive since its last round of funding in May 2017. Since then, SiFive has expanded its executive team with seasoned industry veterans including CEO Naveed Sherwani. The company also moved to a new, larger headquarters in Silicon Valley, a move that was prompted by a projected 3X growth in 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’s mission is to democratize access to custom silicon through its IPs and platforms, globally. Since becoming available, HiFive1 and HiFive Unleashed software development boards have been deployed in more than 50 countries. Additionally, the company has engaged with multiple customers across its IP and SoC products, shipped the industry’s first RISC-V SoC in 2016 and the industry’s first RISC-V IP with support for Linux in October 2017.