A Q&A with Andes’ Board of Directors’ Advisor
Charlie Cheng, Managing Director of Polyhedron.
What is Andes Technology and how has it grown in the US market?
Andes Technology is a semiconductor IP company headquartered in Taiwan and focused on RISC-V processors. Since 2015, its US presence has grown to over 30 people, including R&D, business centers, sales, and support. The US business has grown 6-fold since 2018 and as it has been a first mover on machine learning and AI applications that use RISC-V and its vector extension.
How does Andes Technology balance the different priorities between its US business and the rest of the world?
Andes business started in microcontrollers for consumer, automotive, and industrial embedded processing, mostly with Asia customers. But similar business proved to be unavailable or unprofitable. Luckily, the US business found an opening in emerging machine learning acceleration sockets. Andes Technology balances these priorities by focusing on a few, leading-edge US customers that are typically quite large. Andes works with them on roadmaps and technology developments and completing their product. These specialized products then work their way into Andes Technology’s mainstream product lines.
What is the biggest hidden value of Andes Technology?
There are two hidden values of Andes Technology.
The first is the quality of its processor. Cheng says that it is challenging to verify a microprocessor to the quality that is worthy for production. Andes participated in a bake-off competition to supply a housekeeping system control function for a high-profile RISC-V chip company. After three months of verification, Andes’ processor was the only processor that survived the verification on testing rigor, while the other two or three failed because the licensee found bugs that were in these processors.
The second hidden value of Andes is its configuration flexibility to meet the design needs of licensees. Cheng says that every licensee has a different idea about how to configure a processor, and Andes has learned to create configuration options whenever possible for licensees to choose from.
What is the biggest surprise when licensees engage with Andes?
Licensees are always surprised at how technical Andes is. The depth of engagement and the interactions and discussions Andes comes up with are incredibly technical. Andes has been known for low-cost, efficient, embedded microcontrollers, and many licensees, particularly in the North American region, have not thought of Andes as a technology powerhouse so they are often surprised.
What areas does Andes need to improve?
Andes needs to get on board more often and promote in languages and styles that are more internationally recognized and accepted. As RISC-V gains global and broad-based adoption, and Andes takes the leadership within the RISC-V community, they need to create a brand that is internationally recognized and received. He sees this as the biggest growth area for the company and a challenge for the management team.
What is the future for Andes? Will Andes expand beyond RISC-V processors?
Andes is going to stay true to RISC-V processors at least for the next five years, and not be distracted by the temptation of expanding out. The ecosystem is not complete, and there is a lot that they can do in the machine learning area. Cheng believes that Andes can expand their offering along two axes in the interest of accelerating licensee adoption: better integration with AI frameworks and more processor accelerations.
Beyond that, a processor needs to have a lot of tools, widgets, hardware connectors and things to be able to be fully integrated in an SoC and the gold standard is obviously ARM. Compared to ARM, Cheng thinks the RISC-V ecosystem has more freedom of choices but it’s also more complex. So the expansion, the future for Andes is going to be focused on RISC-V processors but within that fill some of the gaps in the ecosystem.