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China to Challenge Intel at Chipmaking

China, now more than ever, wishes to become technology independent. Following the nation’s impressive show to the world at the summer Olympics in Beijing, China hopes to continue its rise.

Already producing its own automobiles, China is looking to the next industrial area for growth – technology. In particular, there is a specific reason that China is looking to make its own CPUs, and that’s because current U.S. laws prohibit the export of state-of-the-art microprocessors into certain nations. China is now looking to design its own chips so that it will not have to use generations-old hardware.

"Twenty years ago in China, we didn’t support R&D for microprocessors," said Zhiwei Xu, deputy director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Computing Technology (ICT), according to Technology Review. "The decision makers and [Chinese] IT community have come to realize that CPUs [central processing units] are important."

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Computing Technology started design of China’s first general-purpose CPU in 2001, with the single-core chip named Godson-1 emerging the year after. The Godson-2 lived throughout 2003 to 2006, with each iteration faster than the last.

While the Godson chips are Chinese designed, they are actually manufactured by ST Microelectronics and can be bought under the commercial name of Loongson.

Like the rest of the CPU world, the next step is in multiple cores. Xu revealed during a presentation at last week’s Hot Chips conference in Palo Alto that the Godson-3 will contain four cores and is slated for completion sometime in 2009. An eight core version is also in the works, with the design currently planned for a 65nm process.

The Godson-3 is to be scalable, with more cores easily added without significant changes in design, and contain power-saving features.

Perhaps the biggest upgrade for the Godson-3 is the 200 addition instructions that will allow the Chinese chip to run x86 code. The upcoming chip hopes to dodge any license fees for Intel, as the Godson-3 will only simulate the x86 architecture.

Because of this setup, Intel patent attorney Erik Metzger believes that the Godsend-3 will only perform at 80 percent of the speed of a native x86 chip. Understandably, Intel is keeping a close eye on its x86 patents and the work of the ICT.

Marcus Yam
Marcus Yam served as Tom's Hardware News Director during 2008-2014. He entered tech media in the late 90s and fondly remembers the days when an overclocked Celeron 300A and Voodoo2 SLI comprised a gaming rig with the ultimate street cred.