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SiFive Bumps Up Performance for RISC-V HCP, AI Systems

SiFive Bumps Up Performance for RISC-V HCP, AI Systems

The News: SiFive has launched two new reduced instruction set computer (RISC-V) systems, the Performance P870 and Intelligence X390, designed to address requirements for high performance compute through low power, compute density, and vector compute capability. You can read the news release at the SiFive website.

SiFive Bumps Up Performance for RISC-v HCP, AI Systems

Analyst Take: SiFive, founded by the inventors of the RISC-V open standard, who came from the University of California, Berkeley, has set out to bring commercial grade RISC-V microprocessor intellectual property (IP) to market. The company employs more than 500 engineers.

SiFive’s RISC-V Market Strategy

Startup SiFive is considered a “unicorn” with a valuation of more than $250 billion after it raised more than $350 million in venture capital. However, SiFive competes in the semiconductor market against entrenched incumbents such as Intel, AMD, and ARM. The semiconductor market has been a tough place for newcomers to survive. SiFive aims to disrupt traditional models by offering a more flexible and customizable solution, accelerating the democratization of chip design and potentially reshaping the industry.

SiFive needs to produce innovative solutions for AI and machine learning (ML) to deliver increased performance per watt efficiency and better overall end-user experiences. This requires differentiating in areas such as vector computing for AI and high-performance applications processors. SiFive’s early push has been in the automotive, aerospace, and defense industries but it is looking to expand into more markets with its new upgraded systems.

The SiFive Performance P870 and SiFive Intelligence X390 are engineered for high performance compute across markets including consumer, automotive, and infrastructure sectors. When used in tandem, the products offer a combination of scalar and vector compute capabilities, suitable for data-intensive operations and AI applications.

The Performance P870 is SiFive’s third-generation applications processor. It is aimed at high-performance consumer applications or for use with a vector processor in the data center. It brings a 50% peak single thread performance upgrade (specINT2k6) over the previous generation SiFive Performance processors. The P870 is a six-wide out-of-order core that meets the RVA 23 profile and offers a shared cluster cache enabling up to a 32-core cluster. The P870 is fully compatible with Google’s platform requirements for Android on RISC-V.

The SiFive Intelligence X390 builds on the Intelligence X280 used by Google, NASA, and other organizations, which couples AI/ML applications with hardware accelerators in mobile, infrastructure, and automotive applications. SiFive claims the X390 brings a 4x improvement to vector computation with its single core configuration, doubled vector length, and dual vector arithmetic-logic units (ALUs). This enables quadruple the amount of sustained data bandwidth. The SiFive Vector Coprocessor Interface eXtension (VCIX) allows customers to add their own vector instructions and/or acceleration hardware to increase performance with custom instructions.

Where SiFive Fits in the Chip Landscape

SiFive, Intel, ARM, and AMD serve as critical entities within the semiconductor landscape but operate under different paradigms and target different market niches. Intel and AMD primarily use the x86 architecture, focusing on high-performance central processing units (CPUs) for general-purpose computing needs in consumer, enterprise, and data center markets. ARM takes a different approach, licensing its power-efficient architecture to other firms; it has a strong presence in mobile and embedded systems. SiFive employs the open-source RISC-V architecture, allowing for high customization and adaptability for specific use-cases such as IoT, edge computing, high-performance computing (HPC), and AI.

The business models also vary considerably among these players. Intel and AMD manufacture and sell their chips directly, while ARM and SiFive license their designs to other companies. However, SiFive distinguishes itself by leveraging an open-source architecture, making the scope for innovation more democratized. In terms of strategic implications, Intel and AMD need to evolve their legacy architectures continually to stay competitive, especially given ARM’s inroads into the server market. ARM’s $4.9 billion initial public offering (IPO)―the biggest in tech since 2019―shows the value of this market.

Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Other insights from The Futurum Group:

ARM Goes Public with Successful Debut

Intel’s FPGA Unit Becoming a Separate Business To Drive Growth

AMD Datacenter & AI Conference Recap

Author Information

Regarded as a luminary at the intersection of technology and business transformation, Steven Dickens is the Vice President and Practice Leader for Hybrid Cloud, Infrastructure, and Operations at The Futurum Group. With a distinguished track record as a Forbes contributor and a ranking among the Top 10 Analysts by ARInsights, Steven's unique vantage point enables him to chart the nexus between emergent technologies and disruptive innovation, offering unparalleled insights for global enterprises.

Steven's expertise spans a broad spectrum of technologies that drive modern enterprises. Notable among these are open source, hybrid cloud, mission-critical infrastructure, cryptocurrencies, blockchain, and FinTech innovation. His work is foundational in aligning the strategic imperatives of C-suite executives with the practical needs of end users and technology practitioners, serving as a catalyst for optimizing the return on technology investments.

Over the years, Steven has been an integral part of industry behemoths including Broadcom, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), and IBM. His exceptional ability to pioneer multi-hundred-million-dollar products and to lead global sales teams with revenues in the same echelon has consistently demonstrated his capability for high-impact leadership.

Steven serves as a thought leader in various technology consortiums. He was a founding board member and former Chairperson of the Open Mainframe Project, under the aegis of the Linux Foundation. His role as a Board Advisor continues to shape the advocacy for open source implementations of mainframe technologies.

Dave’s focus within The Futurum Group is concentrated in the rapidly evolving integrated infrastructure and cloud storage markets. Before joining the Evaluator Group, Dave spent 25 years as a technology journalist and covered enterprise storage for more than 15 years. He most recently worked for 13 years at TechTarget as Editorial Director and Executive News Editor for storage, data protection and converged infrastructure. In 2020, Dave won an American Society of Business Professional Editors (ASBPE) national award for column writing.

His previous jobs covering technology include news editor at Byte and Switch, managing editor of EdTech Magazine, and features and new products editor at Windows Magazine. Before turning to technology, he was an editor and sports reporter for United Press International in New York for 12 years. A New Jersey native, Dave currently lives in northern Virginia.

Dave holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Journalism from William Patterson University.


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