(Image courtesy of Gareth Halfacree, Flickr).
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SiFive Lands Another $60 Million in Funding to Challenge Arm

Aug. 13, 2020
The Silicon Valley startup said its latest round of funding was led by SK Hynix, one of the world's largest manufacturers of memory chips. The investment arms of Intel, Qualcomm, and Western Digital, and other current investors joined the Series E round.

Silicon Valley startup SiFive raised $61 million in its latest round of funding to continue rolling out its open-source semiconductor technology and challenge its major rival Arm.

The startup said its latest round of funding was led by SK Hynix, one of the world's largest memory chip manufacturers, and was joined by its existing investors, including the venture capital arms of Intel, Qualcomm, and Western Digital. The funding brings the total amount raised by the company to more than $190 million since it was founded in 2015.

The startup has developed a range of processor cores, accelerators, and other IP based on the RISC-V architecture, the popular open-source instruction set used as the starting point for building chips. SiFive said that its product portfolio spans high-performance processors used in data centers to tiny, power-sipping cores ideal for the Internet of Things. SiFive has rolled out products that compete against Arm's Cortex-A, Cortex-M, and other chip designs.

While anyone can access the open instruction set architecture free of charge, building chips based on the technology can be very costly and take years of development time. SiFive has rolled out a set of development tools that can be used to add custom features to its RISC-V cores, giving customers the ability to differentiate their products. It has rolled out another set of tools that customers can use to assemble the IP into systems on a chip, or SoCs.

SiFive, which also offers chip design services to customers, said the use of its intellectual property and cloud-based tools reduces the cost and time-to-market for custom silicon.

SiFive is looking to challenge Arm Holdings, which offers blueprints to the computer chips used in virtually every smartphone in the world, including the Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone, and tens of billions of other devices, including energy-efficient Internet of Things gadgets. To date, more than 160 billion chips based on its proprietary, general-purpose architecture have been shipped out globally. It is targeting one trillion chips by 2030.

Arm, with its global headquarters in Cambridge, England, and US headquarters in Silicon Valley, rolls out its microprocessor designs to more than 500 customers around the world, ranging from Qualcomm and Broadcom to Texas Instruments and Nvidia. It also licenses designs to Apple, which has been bringing more of its chip development in-house in recent years, building the core processors in its iPhone and other consumer electronics for years. 

SiFive, which also offers to custom-design chips for a commission, said it will use the new investment to help leading players in the semiconductor industry bring to market new products for use in smartphones, data centers, automobiles, aerospace and defense, artificial intelligence, networking, storage, and other areas. The startup is led by president and chief executive officer Naveed Sherwani, who was hired for the position in 2017.

The startup raised $65 million in Series D funding led by Qualcomm Ventures last year, after it landed $50 million in Series C funding from Spark Capital and Sutter Hill Ventures in 2018. 

SiFive has been gaining ground in the global chip business in recent years. Last year, the company said it counted six of the top 10 semiconductor suppliers in the world, including Qualcomm and SK Hynix, as its customers. "SiFive's winning product portfolio will continue to expand and be adopted for solutions that require domain-specific architectures," the CEO said in a statement Tuesday.

The company was founded in 2015 by Andrew Waterman, Krste Asanovic and Yunsup Lee, who co-developed the free, open-source architecture at the University of California, Berkeley.

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