Andes Technology Corp., a Taiwanese company offering embedded processor IP, recently announced that it has shipped 2 billion units in 2020, a 33% increase compared to 2019. In total, the company has shipped an estimated number of 7 billion units since its foundation.
Andes Technology’s new chips based on the open-source RISC-V, the fifth iteration of reduced instruction set computing (RISC), have officially entered mass production in 2020, contributing to 1.6% of the company’s royalty revenue.
RISC-V products have already accounted for 58% of Andes’ overall revenue, overtaking the products based on V3 – the company’s previous ISA (Instruction Set Architecture). Currently, Andes’ RISC-V products are mainly adopted by 41 customers, concentrated in Taiwan, South Korea and China.
One-tenth global RISC-V CPUs can be attributed to Taiwan
As a part of a governmental project to achieve autonomy in CPU design, Andes grew to become Taiwan’s only company that is able to commercialize its IP cores.
Founded in 2005, Andes joined RISC-V International Association in 2016 and became its founding premier member last year. In 2017, Andes started supporting RISC-V by announcing AndeStar V5, bringing the open-source ISA to mainstream SoC applications, and also propelled itself into the only Taiwanese company riding on the trend of RISC-V.
Frankwell Lin, CEO of Andes, estimates that there are approximately 200 CPU designs adopting the RISC-V structure, and Andes accounts for 20 of them. In other words, one-tenth of global CPUs based on RISC-V can be attributed to Taiwan. As one of the five largest CPU IP core vendors, Andes is also Taiwan’s most likely challenger to ARM.
China sets sight on RISC-V to divert US sanction risks
RISC-V has been gaining momentum as Sino-American tension rises. As the proprietary technologies of American companies have been increasingly weaponized by Washington to hinder Chinese IT developments, Chinese processor design industry has been counting on the open-source ISA to divert US sanction risks. It also seeks to build an autonomous ecosystem based on RISC-V.
In 2019, Alibaba’s semiconductor subsidiary, T-Head Semiconductor Co., released a RISC-V based processor named Xuantie 910. Earlier this year, T-Head announced its success to transplant Android 10 onto Xuantie 910 – a significant breakthrough as Android is the leading smartphone operating system in China.
The possible acquisition of ARM by Nvidia, a US company, only boosts the global IC industry’s appetite for RISC-V. IC designers like Qualcomm, NXP and MediaTek have all taken steps to adopt RISC-V in their products.
RISC-V Foundation moved to Switzerland for neutrality
Meanwhile, RISC-V Foundation, the non-profit organization overseeing the ISA’s development, decided to move to Switzerland from the United States in an effort to maintain the technology’s neutrality.
Despite Andes’ rising prominence, it remains a challenge for Taiwan to expand its footprints in the RISC-V ecosystem as the newest round of standard-setting competition is now underway. Currently, only 6 Taiwanese companies, including TSMC, MediaTek and Andes, are included in RISC-V International.