Apple is giving signs that it may be considering an open-source alternative to the ARM chip architecture, which it has been using in its products for decades.
A newly posted job alert, spotted by Tom Hardware, shows Apple is looking for an engineer that specializes in RISC-V, an open-source architecture instruction set that allows device makers to build their own chips without having to pay a license or royalty.
The post says the successful candidate will have an “excellent understanding and knowledge of RISC-V ISA architecture along with working knowledge of NEON micro architecture in ARM CPU cores from a vector programming perspective.’
Apple currently uses the ARM architecture in its products, including its latest Mac computers, and it pays a royalty fee to use its instruction set.
If Apple was to adopt the open-source instruction set of RISC-V, it could save the company money because it wouldn’t need to pay ARM a license fee for its instruction set. (Insert “pay an ARM and a leg” joke here.)
Every Arm core requires Apple to pay a licensing fee to Arm, and since the number of cores for things like SSD controllers and smartwatches will only increase, so will Apple’s payments to Arm. As such, replacing at least some Arm cores with RISC-V cores could save Apple millions of dollars in royalty payments every year.
Any such use of RISC-V will likely be much farther down the line, and Apple may not even implement the open-source technology. Apple began switching a goodly amount of its Mac lineup over to ARM-based silicon in late 2020, making the move away from Intel’s processor lineup, which had powered Apple’s laptop and desktop Macs for several years.