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Chips that pass in the night: How risky is RISC-V to Arm, Intel and the others? Very


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A RISC-V chip.

As it prepares to celebrate the 10th year since its inception, RISC-V is showing the most dangerous trait in any competitor, the ability to redefine the ecosystem.

Credit: Shutterstock

How well does Intel sleep? It's just rounded off a record year with a record quarter, turning silicon into greenbacks more efficiently than ever, redeeming recent wobbles in the data centre market and missteps in fabrication with double-digit growth.

The company should be slumbering with all the unworried ease of Scrooge McDuck on a mattress stuffed with thousand-dollar bills. Yet the wake-up packet of unease should be pinging its management port with some insistence right now.

Intel remains a one-trick pony, entirely dependent on the x86 ISA. It has no game in GPUs, it is tuning out of its 5G interests, it has long handed over handsets to Arm. It has memory, it has Wi-Fi, it has wired networking, but compared to the cash cows of edge and central x86, these are barely cash coypu.

One barbarian is at the gates with a refurbished siege engine. AMD has finally got its architectural, process node and marketing acts together and is making up for lost time while Intel is still recalibrating from 10nm disappointment. Yet this is familiar turf for Intel, which remains a very formidable machine with enormous resources and flexibility. When AMD still had its own chip fabs a decade or so ago and was having its own process woes, it suffered: Intel is making record profits. It knows how to sell chips on its own turf. It'll have some bumps getting out of 10nm and the next couple of years may not be quite such record-breakers, but x86 remains its to lose.

 

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