Ex-Qualcomm executive takes over at SiFive

Business news |
By Ally Winning

The appointment at SiFive move can be seen, in part, as a response to the proposed takeover of ARM by Nvidia.

That ARM-Nvidia deal, valued at $40 billion, may not go ahead but it has been widely criticized as risking putting ARM in competition with licensees. If it does go ahead it could represent an opportunity for RISC-V, to break electronics and semiconductor companies away from ARM. SiFive is the leading proponent of RISC-V being founded by the original academic developers out of University California, Berkeley.

SiFive’s previous CEO, Naveed Sherwani, has stepped down from his role as CEO but continues to chair SiFive’s board.

Little spent nine years at Qualcomm where he was senior vice president of global automotive business. He has more than 30 years experience in the semiconductor industry including including as CEO of eASIC, senior vice president of CSR Technology, and senior vice president at Xilinx.

“Across the technology industry, a sharpened focus on workload-acceleration to solve next-generation computing challenges is driving demand for SiFive’s configurable RISC-V-based platforms,” said Little, in a statement.

While the open-source RISC-V architecture has advantages of open-source origins, flexibility and modifiability, this also means that its environment and marketplace is fragmented.  One advantage ARM retains is a great deal of legacy software a well-developed ecosystem that is cost-effective in support of ARM-based chips. Little’s challenge will be to try and build-up the RISC-V ecosystem despite the fragmentary nature of the architecture.

Next: Go spend

In August SiFive announced it had raised a further $61 million to take on that challenge and Little has essentially been appointed to spend that money and raise SiFive’s marketshare significantly.

It brought the amount raised by SiFive since its formation in 2015 to $190.5 million and notable investors include SK Hynix, Western Digital, Qualcomm and Intel. All can be seen to have a strategic interest in backing an alternative to dominant player ARM.

Development of the RISC-V ISA and extensions is governed by RISC-V International, in open working groups composed of technology leaders and company representatives. Designed for scalability, SiFive RISC-V-based platforms can be tailored to customer workload requirements through the configurable parameters of the architecture, and focused using custom instructions.

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