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A Chip Off The Old Block? New RISC-V Startup Garners Many Senior CPU Architects From Apple, Google, Marvell, Qualcomm, Intel, and AMD
There's a new CPU startup, and it is stacked with talent. SemiAnalysis has found includes many engineers coming from Apple. There was a bit of an exodus in their senior CPU leadership, and it has also touched many other firms such as Google, Marvell, Qualcomm, Intel, AMD, and more.
Still fresh on our minds is Nuvia, a firm whose leadership was ex-Apple. They rushed onto the scene and as soon as the product of their work was visible, they were snatched up by Qualcomm for $1.4B. Nuvia had multiple offers at or over $1B.
This firm may be even more stacked with talent then Nuvia was a few months into their journey. We will go through the executives as well as a brief summary of where the staff engineers have worked.
First is Brian Campbell, one of the founders. He is known for working at SiByte which produce MIPS based CPU cores. This firm was acquired by Broadcom where he rose to become a principal engineer. Following this stint, he joined P.A. Semi, where he became the director of engineering. P.A. Semi was eventually acquired by Apple, and that team jumpstarted the extremely successful in-house silicon efforts. He rose to the level of Apple’s Director of Hardware Technologies. This is a very senior position where he was in charge of silicon on a broad portfolio of semiconductors designed for iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, Macs, and Airpods.
Belli Kuttanna is the CTO and a co-founder. His career is possibly even more storied. Belli did design at Texas Instruments, Motorola, and Sun Microsystems, before going to Intel. At Intel he earned the coveted title of Intel Fellow. After this, he went on to become the VP of Technology at Qualcomm. He then returned back to Intel to become the Chief Architect of The New Technology Group. He earned a promotion to Senior Fellow and became the CTO of Intel Capital. Intel Capital is set up to manage corporate venture capital, global investment, mergers, and acquisitions. He was in charge of evaluating the technology of many investments and kickstarting dozens of startups. There are hundreds of names here, but some notable ones include SiFive, BlueStacks, and Ayar Labs.
Mark Hayter is the third explicitly named co-founder on LinkedIn. He worked at DEC, SiByte, and Broadcom where he was a Sr. Engineering Manager. His next career move was to P.A. Semi where he served as the VP of Hardware & System Architecture. Following the acquisition, he became an Apple director for a time before starting a new firm, Agnilux, where he was COO and System Architect. Google acquired this firm. Mark’s final role was as a Google Engineering Director.
Tse-Yu Yeh is the VP of Silicon Engineering. He started at Intel. He also went through the SiByte to Broadcom journey. Following this stint he was along the ride for the P.A. Semi to Apple journey aswell. At Apple he has been Engineering Manager of Architecture and Verification, Director of Engineering, and the Senior Director of CPU design.
Ken Dockser is lead CPU Architect. He has gone from DEC to NexGen Microsystems to MIPS to VLSI to IBM. He was the Qualcomm Director of Datacenter where he led the Centriq server CPU product. This product was competitive and starting to get wins including at CloudFlare and Chinese hyperscalers. It was cut short when an aggressive takeover attempt meant Qualcomm had to cut teams which had yet to be profitable in order to appease shareholders. He moved on to become the director of R&D at Qualcomm where he headed the Cloud AI 100. This is Qualcomm’s AI Inference geared product that is racking up wins in the edge and even has a hyperscaler win. He also led Qualcomm’s RISC V effort and is on the RISC V Board of Directors!
Beyond these executives, we found another dozen employees. We will leave them out as we do not believe non-executives should have their privacy violated. We will list some of their successes though. Besides the senior staff from Apple, there are quite a few other seasoned Apple employees. Furthermore, they have a Google chip lead. Some folks from the Cavium/Marvell teams including the principal architect and director have joined up. They have veterans from other failed CPU attempts such as Xeon Phi. The list of expertise continues with a board member from JEDEC, the organization who sets standards for memory and much more. We were also able to find other leaders from Intel and AMD.
SemiAnalysis believes this will be the first truly high-performance RISC V design!
As an aside, SiFive has some interesting designs, but they are eons away from touching high end Arm and x86. Even their unproven marketing claims have the latest P550 core edging out Arm Cortex A75 which was released in 2017. The SiFive P550 CPU is not scheduled to reach high volume production in silicon until late 2022 or early 2023. Their previous “high performance” CPU core never reached silicon despite claims of beating the Arm Cortex A72.
We have done a lot of waffling about how storied and successful the personnel making up the publically unnamed firm are, but in 3-4 years watch out because the fruits of their labor will most likely be industry shaking. We are still not sure what their business model is yet. Licensing, datacenter, mobile, or building until they are acquired by a larger firm all could be viable. Regardless, there seems to be a new, aggressive startup on the block, but this time in the RISC V flavor!
SemiAnalysis is getting Dejavu, anyone else?
This article was originally published on SemiAnalysis on August 28th 2021.
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