Alibaba’s chip unit T-Head joins global push to develop RISC-V software ecosystem

June 3, 2023 1:10 pm

T-Head, a unit under Alibaba's cloud computing divisionhas joined a global push to develop a software ecosystem and speed up the commercialization of RISC-V, which is increasingly being considered as a viable replacement for the exclusive Arm and x86 architectures.

According to a press release released earlier this week, the RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE) Project, hosted by the Linux Foundation European, a non-profit organization supporting innovation via open source, has gathered 13 worldwide industry leaders as its founding members.

Members of RISC-V International also include some of China's largest tech firms, including Alibaba, Tencent Holdings, Huawei Technologies Co., and ZTE Corp.

Some of the biggest semiconductor companies in the world, including Intel, Qualcomm, and Nvidia from the US, Samsung Electronics from South Korea, MediaTek, and Andes Technology from Taiwan, are founding members.

Presently, chips with exclusive architectures continue to rule the international market. For desktop and laptop computers, the X86 architecture created by US tech giant Intel continues to dominate the market, while British company Arm is in charge of the architecture used in the majority of smartphone chips worldwide.

Alibaba is one of several Chinese tech companies to pour research and development resources into RISC-V,

T-Head first unveiled its Xuantie series of RISC-V-based core processors in 2019.

Since its founding, T-Head has released eight RISC-V processors, four of which have been made open-source and are based on its own XuanTie IP.

T-Head is partnering with Alipay, the payment service under Alibaba's financial affiliate Ant Group, to release computing chips for secure payments based on the RISC-V instruction set architecture.

Washington placed export restrictions on Huawei Technologies Co Ltd (HWT.UL) in 2019, which put the company's access to ARM designs in jeopardy.

Similar export restrictions were imposed by the US on Chinese semiconductor factories and research facilities in late 2022.

Against this backdrop, RISC-V has gained popularity in China, where an increasing number of Chinese businesses are joining consortiums for the architecture.