Is Rivos Developing a RISC-V AI Chip?

AI Chip, RISC-V, Rivos Building

Apple and chip startup Rivos were involved in a lawsuit in the past where Apple accused Rivos of hiring former Apple employees to work on competing chip technology. The lawsuit was settled in February. However, Rivos recently announced that it raised $250 million in a funding round to manufacture its first server chip for artificial intelligence (AI). This chip will combine a CPU with an AI-accelerating component optimized for LLMs and data analytics.

In the AI chip market, Nvidia currently holds more than 80% market share. However, several startups and chip giants have entered the competition with their own products. For example, Intel recently unveiled its Gaudi 3 chip, and Meta introduced its inference chip. Rivos, although not revealing much about its product, mentioned that it plans to design chips based on the RISC-V architecture, an open source alternative to Arm, Intel, and AMD architectures. By using RISC-V, Rivos can avoid paying license fees to Arm for its chip designs.

Lip-Bu Tan, the founding managing partner at Walden Catalyst, one of Rivos’ investors, explained that choosing RISC-V allows Rivos to build software-defined hardware, similar to what CUDA did for Nvidia. While RISC-V currently lacks a large software ecosystem, Rivos aims to build hardware that can support it.

Interestingly, there are rumors about Allen Wu, the former CEO of Arm China, starting a new company focused on developing chips based on RISC-V. Zhongzhi Chip, led by Wu, has reportedly attracted talent, including former Arm employees, indicating its ambitions in the chip sector. It is not entirely clear what the company’s operational focus will be, but there is speculation that it will engage in its own R&D initiatives or serve as an agent for Tenstorrent in China. Tenstorrent is known for developing high-performance computing CPUs and AI processors based on the RISC-V ISA. Zhongzhi Chip aims to leverage its connections and form alliances with other leading global RISC-V chip developers.

The competition in the AI chip market is becoming intense, with various players vying for market share. Nvidia has established a dominant position, but startups like Rivos and companies like Intel and Meta are challenging its market position. By embracing the RISC-V architecture, Rivos and potentially Zhongzhi Chip are taking a different approach that offers cost advantages and flexibility compared to using traditional architectures. However, RISC-V’s limited software ecosystem remains a challenge that these companies aim to address. By building software-defined hardware and forming alliances, they hope to grow the RISC-V ecosystem and make it a competitive alternative to established architectures.

As the AI industry continues to expand, the demand for specialized AI chips is expected to increase. These chips play a crucial role in accelerating AI workloads and enabling advanced data analytics. Companies like Rivos and Zhongzhi Chip are positioning themselves to capitalize on this growing demand by offering innovative solutions based on the RISC-V architecture.

Overall, the emergence of RISC-V as an open source alternative to traditional chip architectures has presented new opportunities and challenges for players in the chip industry. While companies like Nvidia have dominated the AI chip market, the rise of RISC-V-based chips from startups and giants like Intel and Meta indicates a changing landscape. As these companies invest in developing software-defined hardware and building ecosystems, the competition in the AI chip market will continue to intensify. It will be interesting to see how Apple’s previous lawsuit with Rivos and the potential entry of Zhongzhi Chip into the market shape the future of AI chip development.

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