A View from Tom Simonite
The China Chip Advances—and May Compete with Intel Soon
The country’s first homegrown microprocessor could be used in Internet servers and routers.
The processors at the heart of computers and mobile devices today come in two basic flavors: Intel- and ARM-compatible. But since 2002 the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been working in a public-private partnership, BLX IC Design Corporation, to establish a third type of processor—designed and made in China. Early next year, the latest fruit of that project will be unveiled, reports ComputerWorld—a new chip in a family of designs known as Loongson that is intended to drive PCs, servers, and supercomputers.
The latest chip, the Godson-3B1500, is the same size as its predecessor, launched in 2011, but is said to have twice as many transistors and to be 35 percent more power efficient. Earlier members of the Godson chip family were used as the basis of the chips for China’s first fully domestically built supercomputer.
Despite that progress, Loongson chips are still far behind Intel’s technologically. The chip to be launched next year is made using a process that creates features as small as 32 nanometers, but Intel already sells processors with features as small as 22 nanometers. Loongson chips are also incompatible with Microsoft’s Windows operating system, which many consumers in China and elsewhere find synonymous with desktop computing.
However, China’s chips may have a significant impact on Intel and the world in general in an area of computing where Windows isn’t so critical. That’s because Godson chips could ease the adoption of Internet-centric computing in China and other developing nations by cutting the cost of the the servers that underpin Internet and cloud services.