Tech giants are looking for an alternative to the processors of the British company Arm, which is soon to be acquired by NVIDIA. For example, Amazon has decided to support RISC-V, a free alternative to Arm microarchitectures.
In several job advertisements posted in recent weeks, Amazon’s devices division is looking for engineers with RISC-V experience. It is, in fact, an alternative to Arm – created in 2010, an open and free instruction set and processor architecture based on the RISC concept for microprocessors and microcontrollers. The specification is available for free and free use, including commercial implementations directly in silicon or FPGA configuration. It has built-in capabilities for expanding the command list and is suitable for a wide range of applications. For the development and promotion of RISC-V in 2015, an international RISC-V foundation and an association headquartered in Zurich were created, and since 2018 the RISC-V Foundation has been working in close partnership with The Linux Foundation.
RISC-V is viewed by many as an impending threat to Arm, whose processors are used in nearly every smartphone in the world, as well as in billions of other electronic devices (in 2020, an average of 842 Arm chips were produced per second). And while little seems to shake Arm’s power today, the open source chip architecture allows companies to develop compatible chips without paying the royalties that Arm charges. For example, Arnd Bermann, a key Linux developer, believes there will be three key architectures on the market in 2030: Arm, RISC-V, and x86. Today, we recall, there is at least Synopsys ARC, MIPS and IBM Power.
Companies like Google and Qualcomm are contributing to the development of RISC-V, although many experts believe it will be years before the architecture becomes a serious rival to Arm. However, the prospect of a $ 40 billion takeover of Arm by NVIDIA is believed to have heightened interest in RISC-V – some companies believe the deal would jeopardize Arm’s famed neutrality.
Amazon’s Silicon Valley job listings requiring RISC-V experience indicate that the company is developing dedicated processors for use in devices such as the Kindle. The company has already invested heavily in developing its own chips for data centers running Amazon Web Services, and is also using its own Arm-based chip in its Alexa Echo speakers.
RISC-V is unlikely to overthrow Arm’s dominant smartphone position, as software has been built around this architecture for years. But in the field of the Internet of Things, connected cars and other areas, everything is not so simple.
“Every serious company that develops microcircuits, to one degree or another, works with RISC-V, – said Jay Goldberg, a former head of chip development and analyst. – Most RISC-V we see today in embedded devices. “
Industry sources in The Telegraph suggest that Amazon is interested in RISC-V because of the ability to tweak the chips more to fit its needs, rather than because of a desire to save money on royalties paid by Arm.
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