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RISC-V backers think its open-source chip cores could be a viable alternative to chips made by Intel, AMD and Arm’s partners. It will be an uphill battle, but some chip makers are intrigued.

At the outset of Nvidia’s bold $40 billion purchase of chip design maker Arm, semiconductor engineers and executives viewed an open-source alternative called RISC-V as a potential backup option should Nvidia exert more control over Arm’s design philosophy. More than a year later, Nvidia’s deal has run into trouble, but the appetite for an alternative — such as RISC-V — has not waned.

Nvidia’s Arm deal has run up against one of the things that makes RISC-V attractive: techno-nationalism. The COVID-19 pandemic made clear that semiconductors are vital for a range of consumer goods but also national security. The U.S., for example, has a plan in the works to spend billions to ensure that the domestic capacity exists to manufacture a sufficient supply.

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