China prepares new processor for PCs, servers

The Godson-3B1500 is a step ahead in China's efforts to reduce its reliance on Intel, AMD and other chip makers

China will take the wraps off its latest 8-core Godson processor early next year to show its chip-making ability compared to Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and ARM.

Loongson Technology, partly funded by the Chinese Academy of Science, will provide information about the Godson-3B1500, which has a clock speed of 1.35GHz, and provides 172.8 gigaflops of performance while drawing 40 watts of power. The CPU details will be shared next year at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco from Feb. 17-21.

The Godson processor is a result of China's decision decades ago to develop a home-grown processor for PCs, servers and supercomputers. Research for the chip started in 2001 and the 32-bit Godson-1 was the first CPU in the initiative that year. Chips based on 64-bit Godson CPU designs have been used since 2008 in low-power laptops like the Lemote netbook and also the Shenwei supercomputer, which was unveiled last year.

The Godson-3B1500 is made using the 32-nanometer process and has 1.14 billion transistors. The new chip design has close to twice the number of transistors and is more power efficient than an earlier Godson-3B design presented at ISSCC last year, with the older CPU offering less performance on 40 watts. The new Godson-3B design is close to 35 percent more power efficient than the older Godson-3B designed for the 65-nanometer process, according to the ISSCC preview.

Advanced manufacturing processes allow chip manufacturers to etch more features on chips. That helps make chips faster, more power efficient and cheaper to produce.

The Godson cores differ in design from ARM CPUs, which are used in most mobile devices, and x86 CPUs from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which are used in most PCs. Godson is based on an MIPS64 CPU instruction set from chip designer MIPS, which is being acquired by the U.K. company Imagination Technologies. Unlike other CPUs, Godson chips do not support Windows OS and run on variants of the Linux OS. Android 4.1 has already been ported to MIPS architecture.

The 40-watt Godson 3B-1500 CPU would likely be for a desktop, desktop-replacement laptop or server, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

China's chip development efforts revolve around having a domestic infrastructure on hardware and software so the country is not dependent on outside sources, McCarron said.

A quad-core Godson-3A chip is being used in some laptops like the Loongson 3A Notebook, which has a 13.3-inch screen and an Advanced Micro Devices chipset. Other features in the laptop, which weighs 2 kilograms, include a 320GB hard drive, SIM slot and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) port. The laptop is imported from China and available from Netherlands online retailer Tekmote, for ¬840 ($1,072).

China in recent years has been in a race with the U.S., Japan and other countries to build the world's fast computers. The Sunway BlueLight MPP, which has the ShenWei processor SW1600 based on the Godson CPU design, was ranked 28th on the most recent list issued in November by Top500.org of the world's fastest supercomputers.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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