Chinese automaker Nio develops 5nm chip, claims a 4x advantage over Nvidia's Drive Orin X processors

(Image credit: Nio)

Nio, a major maker of electric vehicles from China, has developed its first 5nm processor for autonomous driving. The chip comes packing 50 billion transistors, comparable to Nvidia's A100 processor for artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) applications. The company believes that its system-on-chip is more advanced than Nvidia's Drive Orin X, which it currently uses for its self-driving systems. Interestingly, the SoC is set to be made using a 5nm-class process technology, reports CnEVPost.

Nio's Shenji NX9031 SoC was developed by the company itself and packs 32 general-purpose Arm cores in total (including both Big and Little cores), a neural processing unit, a graphics processor, and an LPDDR5X memory subsystem. The system-on-chip can process data from LiDAR, which differs from processors used by Tesla that rely on data from video sensors. Since the unit is designed for autonomous driving applications, it complies with the ASIL-D risk and safety requirements. 

The automaker says that its own chip is four times more powerful than Nvidia's Drive Orin X processor it uses today, though it has not mentioned any specific numbers. Meanwhile, it is evident that Nio wants to use its own silicon and no longer rely on Nvidia's Drive Orin X.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect about the Nio Shenji NX9031 processor is that it is set to be made on a 5nm process technology, though it is unclear by whom. Unlike many of its Chinese counterparts, Nio is not blacklisted by the U.S. government, so it can order chips from TSMC, Samsung Foundry, or even Intel Foundry Services. Furthermore, since China-based SMIC doesn't really offer automotive-grade leading-edge process technologies, we expect Nio to use the services of TSMC, Samsung, or IFS rather than its Chinese peers. 

Nio's Shenji NX9031 SoC will first be used for the company's ET9, a premium sedan whose deliveries are set to start in Q1 2025, so the company will have enough time to test the processor and tailor software for it.

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.