Apple expresses interest in RISC-V processors, a competitor to the iPhone’s Arm technology.
Apple is looking for a programmer with experience with RISC-V, a processor technology that competes with the Arm designs used in iPhones, iPads, and later Macs. Apple’s interest was revealed Thursday in a job posting for a “RISC-V high performance programmer.”
Apple’s intentions for the technology are unknown. Apple did not reply immediately to a request for comment.
Even a minor part in an Apple product would be a significant success for RISC-V allies wanting to demonstrate their technology as a viable alternative to older chip families such as Arm or Intel’s x86. David Patterson, a seminal processor inventor, is one of the RISC-creators, V’s and businesses such as SiFive and Esperanto Technologies are commercialising RISC-V designs.
Apple’s plans are detailed in the job description. The programmer will work as part of a team “implementing cutting-edge RISC-V solutions and routines. This is to enable the computation required for tasks such as machine learning, vision algorithms, and signal and video processing “As stated in the job description.
The position is located inside Apple’s Vector and Numerics Group, which is responsible for designing embedded subsystems for Macs, iPhones, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs. This could imply that RISC-V is used in supporting hardware rather than the primary processor that powers a computing device.
Apple has achieved a competitive combination of performance and battery life with its in-house processors, first the A series in iPhones and then the M1 in Macs starting last year. All of those Apple processors are based on Arm technology, notably the instruction set architecture (ISA) that software uses to communicate with the chip.
RISC-claim V’s to fame is that, unlike Arm, it is completely free to use. Another advantage is that it may be modified with custom instructions, which increases its flexibility but also introduces the possibility that software created for one RISC-V processor will not run on another. However, anyone interested in using RISC-V processors must design one or purchase one from someone who has.
Switching from one processor family to another is a significant undertaking. Apple has amassed considerable knowledge in this endeavour. Apple’s M series processors, for example, are the fourth family to power Macs. Numerous third-party programmers, on the other hand, must rewrite their software to support new processor families.
This problem is mitigated if only Apple’s software is running on an isolated subsystem that is not exposed to external software. There is enough of that in the world of technology, for example, the software that controls the engine of an automobile.