The latest Godson chips will also have a number of advanced features. Godson-3, a chip with four cores–processing units that work in parallel–will appear in 2009, according to Xu, and an eight-core version is also under development. Both versions will be built using 65-nanometer lithography processes, which are a generation older than Intel’s current 45-nanometer processes. Importantly, Godson-3 is scalable, meaning that more cores can be added to future generations without significant redesign. Additionally, the architecture allows engineers to precisely control the amount of power that it uses. For instance, parts of the chip can be shut down when they aren’t in use, and cores can operate at various frequencies, depending on the tasks that they need to perform. The four-core Godson-3 will consume 10 watts of power, and the eight-core chip will consume 20 watts, says Xu.
This latest chip will also be fundamentally different from those made before. Neither Godson-1 nor -2 is compatible with Intel’s so-called x86 architecture, meaning that most commercial software will not run on them. But engineers have added 200 additional instructions to Godson-3 to simulate an x86 chip, which allows Godson-3 to run more software, including the Windows operating system. And because the chip architecture is only simulated, there is no need to obtain a license from Intel.
Erik Metzger, a patent attorney at Intel, says that the chip will only perform at about 80 percent of the speed of an actual x86 chip. “That implies that [the Chinese government] is going after a low-end market,” he says. This is the same market that Intel is targeting with its classmate PC and low-power atom microprocessor. Metzger adds that the inner workings of the chip, known as its instruction set, have not yet been disclosed, making it difficult to know if or how any x86 patents may have been breeched.
The Chinese team hopes to further boost its chip program through collaboration with other companies and researchers. “We still lag behind the international partners a lot,” says Xu. “But we are doing our best to join the international community.”
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.