Apple Is Exploring RISC-V Open Source Alternatives To Custom Arm Chips For Future Processors

Apple iMac powered by future risc v chips
Do you possess detailed knowledge of RISC-V Instruction Set Architectures (ISAs) and fancy yourself someone who can manage multiple tasks and self-prioritize? If so, then you may be a good candidate for a job opening at Apple, one that suggests the company might be dipping its toe into an open-source alternative to Arm's processor core architecture for future Mac and iPhone devices.

Admittedly, It would be a bit of a reach to connect a simple job listing for a "RISC-V High Performance Programmer" and Apple breaking up with Arm, as it is in the process of doing with Intel. But the endgame of not only designing its own chips, but also sidestepping Arm core license royalties is certainly within the realm of possibility. This is Apple, after all, a company with a market cap exceeding $2.5 trillion and strong design for homegrown innovation when it comes to its silicon technologies.

Apple Is Hiring A RISC-V High Performance Programmer

Apple MacBook
Let's explore, shall we? What we know for sure is Apple is looking to hire someone with extensive experience with RISC-V, an open source processor architecture based on RISC, which stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This is very different than the x86 architectures employed by AMD and Intel, which are classified as CISC, or Complex Instruction Set Computer.

Arm's designs are based on RISC, and they are found all over the place—in everything from smartphones and tablets, to smart speakers and wireless routers, to name just a few examples. These designs come with licensing costs.

Being an open source architecture, RISC-V is a potentially attractive alternative to Apple, especially now that it is going all-in with custom, RISC-based silicon designs. Then there is the possible acquisition of Arm by NVIDIA, which could provide further motivation for branch off on its own.

To be clear, the newly posted Apple job listing is looking for a developer of a chip subsystem for machine vision/AI, and it's important to note that this is development that may or may not ever see the light of day in a product, if it doesn't pan out. That said, it certainly makes sense to test new technology on a specific block of chip design.

In that sense, Apple could be testing the waters, perhaps working on a hybrid Arm/RISC-V as a starting point (the listing mentions having working knowledge of NEON microarchitectures in Arm CPU cores). A hybrid design is just a guess on our part, but in such a scenario, the RISC-V block would be related to machine learning and camera AI strategies. The person who ultimately lands the job will be asked to "design and implement micro architecturally optimized pieces of Accelerate framework taking into consideration power and energy usage."

Whatever initial designs Apple is tasking its new programmer with are likely to be supplementary components and hardware. But if all goes well, the question isn't whether Apple will embrace RISC-V and become wholly self-reliant, rather than continuing paying royalties to Arm, but why wouldn't it?