Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia join Alibaba’s T-Head in developing RISC-V software ecosystem

Along with Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia, Alibaba’s T-Head is part of a global effort to build a RISC-V software environment.

Alibaba Group Holding’s chip division, T-Head, has joined a global effort to build a software ecosystem and speed up the commercialisation of RISC-V because the open-source chip design architecture is becoming more and more seen as a possible alternative to the private Arm and x86 architectures.
The RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE) Project is run by Linux Foundation European, a non-profit group that encourages innovation through open source. According to a press release from the organisation earlier this week, 13 global industry leaders have joined the project as its founding members.
It aims to make “commercially ready software” for mobile phones, consumer goods, data centres, and cars using RISC-V architecture application processors.

Some of the biggest chip companies worldwide, like Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia from the US, Samsung Electronics from South Korea, and MediaTek and Andes Technology from Taiwan, are among the founding members. T-Head is the only founding member from China. It was made by Alibaba in 2018 as a subsidiary to focus on chip creation.

According to the press release, members will “contribute financially and provide engineering talent to address specific software deliverables, ” ranked as most important by the project’s Technical Steering Committee. It also said that the efforts would help RISC-V International, the non-profit home of the open-standard RISC-V Instruction Set Architecture (ISA), do its work and meet its goals worldwide.

Moving Markets

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, made RISC-V, an open-standard ISA, in 2010. It became very famous after RISC-V International made its ISA specifications available to developers in 2015.

Currently, chips with their architectures still make up most of the world market. US tech giant Intel’s X86 is still the most popular microprocessor design architecture for desktop and laptop computers. On the other hand, the British company Arm is in charge of the design architecture for most of the world’s smartphone chips.

Through T-Head, Alibaba is putting more effort into making RISC-V chips. China is betting on open-source design to become more self-sufficient in semiconductors in the face of US sanctions.

Some of China’s biggest tech companies are part of RISC-V International. These include Alibaba, Tencent Holdings, Huawei Technologies Co, and ZTE Corp.

Since it was founded, T-Head has made eight RISC-V processors, four of which are open-source. These four are based on the XuanTie IP that T-Head made itself.

The unit also makes it easier for businesses and consumers to buy chips. Alipay, a famous mobile payment app made by Alibaba affiliate Ant Group, and T-Head are working together on a project to add secure payment functions to wearable devices with RISC-V chips. Alipay announced this in March.

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