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Chinese chip upstart aims to take down Intel with Longson refresh

Exclusive ICT has plans to enter the US and European markets
Fri Sep 07 2012, 12:02
An Intel chipset

THE INSTITUTE FOR COMPUTING TECHNIOLOGY (ICT) in Beijing, China has unveiled new processors exclusively to The INQUIRER, and it hopes they will help it overtake Intel within 15 years.

The INQUIRER met in Beijing with Yunji Chen, one of the principal designers behind Longson, who detailed the firm's new announcements and its plans to open offices in Europe.

For those of you unfamiliar with ICT and the Longson family, the Longson name is the commercial title for the chip series originally known as Goodson. It was originally designed without the proper licence from MIPS, but a couple of years ago ICT acquired a full MIPS licence. Up until now the most advanced chips have been manufactured in 65nm CMOS technology.

The firm's biggest announcement is that the Longson 3B eight-core server processor, which has been available in 65nm for a couple of years, has been shrunk to 32nm with further plans for a move to 28nm.

The new version of the processor is not only a die shrink, but also includes a new L3 cache. The original version of the Longson 3B chip had a 256KB L2 cache for each core. This was originally thought to be enough for a decent performance, but according to Chen, real life showed that there were too many cache misses that resulted in a performance penalty, as data had to be loaded from main memory.

Therefore the 32nm version includes a shared 8MB L3 cache.

In addition the processor frequency has been increased to 1.3GHz and the thermals are lower, although Chen would not reveal exactly how much.

On the mobile side, the 2H processor that has been the focus for a couple of years has now sampled to customers, who have in total received around 10,000 samples. The Longson 2H is really a system-on-chip (SoC) with both a MIPS compatible processor and integrated graphics.

The chip first taped out about a year ago, but the chips that came back from ST Microelectronics were in need of some improvement and a second tape out.

ICT is now eagerly awaiting responses from customers who are testing the chip to see if further modifications and another tape out is needed. The intended audience for the Longson 2H chip is, among others, electronic classrooms, that are very much on the agenda in China, but we should also expect to see it in portable systems in the health care sector.

And then there is the brand new Longson 3D. This chip is still about two years away and in the early design stages, but according to Chen the main focus of the chip will be single thread performance.

The plan for Longson is to open sales and marketing offices in Europe and the US and to later establish research centres outside of China.

At the same time, ICT is also actively participating in the definition of the Chinese Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). This work is still very much in progress, but it is certain that the final ISA will be close if not identical to MIPS. The purpose of the Chinese ISA is not to exclude foreign competition but simply to use domestic Chinese resources better with a common architecture.

The common Chinese ISA will simplify things like compiler and systems development. The purpose of the Chinese ISA is to unite the disparate ISAs in China to better utilise resources, and to compete with other ISAs that are provided by, for example, ARM, x86, MIPS and SPARC.

The Chinese ISA will resemble MIPS in its simplicity, but it has not yet been decided if it will be MIPS compatible. µ


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