A Chinese company is developing a 64-core RISC-V chip using technology from the United States
Chinese chipmaker SophGo is developing a RISC-V chip based on designs from US company SiFive, highlighting the challenges the US government may face in regulating open architecture.
Sophgo is developing the high-performance SG2380 chip based on RISC-V community designs. The company also announced the new SG2044 chip that it plans to release next year.
The SG2380 features a 16-core SiFive P670 design and is connected to SiFive’s X280 accelerator. US-based SiFive makes chips based on the RISC-V design.
RISC-V is gaining influence as an open standard in chip architecture, much like Ethernet, USB, and HTTPS. It is a free alternative to proprietary architectures like x86 and ARM and is supported by top companies like Apple, Google, Nvidia, and Microsoft.
Companies can use RISC-V and develop their own chips around it. It can be faster and at lower cost compared to proprietary architecture. Meta and Qualcomm recently said they will design future chips on RISC-V.
RISC-V is similar to Linux because it is a borderless standard with global contributors. Companies like SiFive voluntarily contribute open designs to the larger community, which anyone who specializes in chip design can adopt. Regardless of location, the community works jointly to improve chip designs.
But RISC-V’s meteoric rise came with problems. The US government has tried to restrict US-based RISC-V companies’ cooperation with Chinese companies.
However, RISC-V International, the Swiss-based company behind the development of the standard, has strongly opposed any government interference, saying it would limit innovation.
At the RISC-V summit last month, participants around the world strongly opposed any kind of regulation.
“Proprietary models are a bigger trap for geopolitical concerns than open architectures. I don’t think this is really captured in some of the rhetoric you hear,” Calista Redmond, CEO of RISC-V International, said in an interview last month.
Government officials have a job to do, but there is a poor understanding of the technology among hawks who demand regulation.
“No reasonable person would say let’s stop sharing Ethernet,” said Mark Himmelstein, chief technology officer at RISC-V, during a breakout session at the SC23 Expo in Denver.
SiFive has been struggling with layoffs, but regulating the company from sharing its technology could hurt the company and its contributions further.
The SG2380 was described as a high-performance desktop chip by Liuxi Yang, chief scientist at Sophgo Technologies, during a presentation at SC 2023.
It also contains an Imagination AXT-16-512 graphics processor, which supports gaming and machine learning applications. The chip was designed using artificial intelligence and will ship next year.
Chinese company Sophgo started out as Sophon in 2016, developing Bitcoin mining hardware. Sophgo was founded in 2020 and focused on developing artificial intelligence chips. Sophon and SophGo merged in 2021 and its first CPU, the SG2042, shipped in 2022.
The 64-core Sophgo SG2042 has seen some success. Shandong University deployed a RISC-V server with 48 chips last month, which is open to academics and commercial cloud customers. There are no commercial deployments of RISC-V servers among U.S. cloud providers yet.
Sophgo is also developing a successor, the SG2044, which will ship in 2024. The upgraded chip has the final RISC-V vector extensions, which were recently certified, while the SG2042 has the older version 0.7 vector extensions.
Liuxi told HPCwire that the RISC-V extensions had compatibility issues, and the company had to develop a new chip to accommodate the final vector extensions.
Otherwise, the 64-core Sophgo 2044 is an incremental upgrade – it will support PCIe Gen5, Gigabit Ethernet, and LPDDR5x. It will draw up to 120 watts of power. The SG2380 and SG2044 chips will likely be manufactured using TSMC’s 12nm process, Liuxi said.
Sophgo came to SC23 hoping to generate interest in its chips. However, RISC-V is still many years away before it is widely adopted in servers and supercomputers. The server market is dominated by x86 chipsets made by Intel and AMD and faced by ARM.