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Zhaoxin KaiXian x86 CPU Tested: The Rise of China's Chips

Test Notes

The firmware in the Zhoaxin-provided development board is certainly a spartan affair, so there are very few options. Overclocking is off the table, as are any type of memory manipulations. However, we did find an option to disable AVX, but we're told this feature is to address compatibility with some applications. We found that it did offer heightened performance in some workloads, and we've included those results in the relevant tests. 

Rendering

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We expect heavily-threaded workloads to expose the best of the eight-core Zhaoxin's performance, but that only manifested in a few workloads – the majority of the tests find the processor lagging behind dual-core competitors. The chip does climb the ranks quite a bit more than it did in the gaming benchmarks, but it's clear that its single-threaded performance is lacking. 

For instance, the Zhaoxin chip trailed competing models tremendously in the single-threaded Cinebench test, but through the virtue of its extra cores it landed in the middle of the pack in the threaded Cinebench results.

Using the disable AVX option yielded some extra performance, to the tune of an extra 5.5% in the multi-threaded test and 5.8% in the single-threaded test, but that isn't enough to overcome even the dual-core Core i3-7100, let alone the modern quad-core chips. This could be a software optimization issue, but we see a similar trend in POV-Ray, though performance is considerably further behind the competing processors. 

The Zhaoxin chip manages to beat the Pentium lineup in the Blender benchmark, but falls to the newer Pentium models in the Corona and v-ray tests. 

Encoding

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We typically use the Intel/Netflix-designed SVT-AV1 video encoder to test performance in a threaded encoding application, but the Zhaoxin processor repeatedly failed to execute the test properly. That leaves us with the single-threaded LAME and FLAC encoding test results, which both reveal a massive disparity in performance compared to competing chips from both Intel and AMD. This could be a lack of software optimization for the architecture, but it's clear that this single-threaded performance needs to improve drastically in future Zhaoxin architectures through both a combination of higher frequencies and microarchitectural advances.   

The threaded HandBrake x264 and x265 tests again reveal the Zhaoxin chip's subpar performance in AVX workloads. The x265 test uses a heavier distribution of AVX instructions than the x264 tests, but even AMD's aging Excavator cores in the A10-9700 outperform the KX-U6780A in both tests.  

Web Browser

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Browsers tend to be impacted more by the recent security mitigations than other types of applications, so Intel has generally taken a haircut in these benchmarks of fully-patched systems. However, neither Intel or AMD face any meaningful competition here from the Zhaoxin processor. The results speak for themselves – the KX-U6780A isn't a contender in lightly-threaded applications. 

Office and Productivity

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The Zhaoxin processor fails to impress in any of our office and productivity tests as it loses every benchmark by large margins. We expect these chips to find plenty of use in governmental offices, but that will come with a stiff performance penalty and generally sluggish performance in these types of applications. 

Compression, Decompression, Encryption, AVX

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The 7zip and Zlib compression/decompression benchmarks rely heavily upon threading and work directly from system memory, thus avoiding the traditional storage bottleneck in these types of tasks. The KX-U6780A puts up much more impressive performance in these tests as it can utilize its memory throughput and cores to chew through the workloads, besting all but the quad-core Intel processors. AMD's dual-core Ryzen 3 3200G proves its mettle with its four threads as it notches a considerable lead against the Zhaoxin chip in both 7zip decompression and compression workloads. 

The heavily-threaded y-cruncher benchmark, which computes pi using the taxing AVX instruction set, finds the Zhaoxin chip getting a nice performance bump by toggling the AVX compatibility feature in the BIOS, but we see the same trend of woeful single-threaded performance offset by the heft of eight cores in the threaded workload. In either case, losing to the $50 dual-core Athlon 200GE in a threaded workload isn't a good look for an eight-core processor. 

China's state-defined encryption is a big impetus for its homegrown CPU initiatives, but there aren't any established SM3/SM4 tests available yet from the roster of ISVs that provide reputable test software. We're sending out requests for tests that reflect the advantages/disadvantages of those algorithms. Meanwhile, we can see that the chip provides strong performance in the AES, Hashing, and SHA3 benchmarks.

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Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.