Intel and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC) have announced a €400 million investment in a new laboratory dedicated to the development of RISC-V processors.
The installation will focus on building RISC-V-based CPUs to power high-performance computing (HPC) systems, as well as specialized chips for artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
The goal is to enable zettascale-class systems, approximately 1,000 times more powerful than fastest supercomputers todaya milestone that Intel aims to achieve in the next five years.
“High-performance computing is the key to solving the world’s most challenging problems and we at Intel have an ambitious goal to accelerate into the zettascale era for HPC [sic],” said Jeff McVeigh, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Super Compute Group.
“The Barcelona Supercomputing Center shares our vision for this goal, with equal emphasis on sustainability and an open approach. We are excited to partner with them to embark on this journey.”
Intel and RISC-V
RISC-V is a free and open source instruction set architecture (ISA) built around the same design principles as Arm’s proprietary cores. At the moment, RISC-V-based processors are much less common than Arm-based or x86-based chips, but the movement seems to be gaining traction.
The idea of Intel, the guardian of x86, adopting RISC-V-based processors may come as a surprise to some, but there is a lot of method to this madness.
The power/performance ratio achieved by Amazon’s Graviton series and others server chips is proof enough that RISC-V can have a future at the top of the performance spectrum, not just in low-power devices.
If Intel wants to maintain its strong market position in HPC and the data center, it makes sense for the company to explore options beyond x86, even though the rise in RISC-V could lead to a drop in licensing revenue.
The last investment follows a $1 billion pledge made in February, which will see Intel support multiple companies in the RISC-V ecosystem. The focus will be on laying the groundwork for modular products that make use of multiple ISAs.
As part of the same announcement, Intel revealed that it would become a member of RISC-V International, the non-profit organization that chairs the RISC-V ISA and its extensions.
Intel’s new RISC-V insiders are not indicative of a drop in spending on x86-based projects, far from it. But they do show that the company is bracing for a potential future where x86 is no longer the leader.