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Russia's Elbrus has a RISC-V competitor as Yadro prepares native chips for launch

Rostec throws rubles on the table for a possible 60,000 units a year

Russia's Yadro and subsidiary Syntacore have announced an effort to develop homegrown processors based on the free and open RISC-V architecture.

A report in local newspaper Ведомости, first spotted in the west by AnandTech, pointed to state-owned Rostec providing up to 30bn rubles (around $400m, £290m) in backing to Yadro and Syntacore to build a range of devices featuring RISC-V chips.

But Yadro's public relations lead, Daria Galybina, told The Register it had been the subject of a "miscommunication on the part of Russian media."

Galybina clarified Rostec's involvement as being limited to tapping Yadro as one of several vendors of workstation components for a national digitalisation programme which will see the organisation distributing 60,000 systems a year – but "nothing is signed yet."

"Rostec would not work [with us] on RISC-V processors," Galybina explained. "They announced that they are ready to buy our workstations, based on these processors. Both the RISC-V microprocessors and workstations are developed by Yadro, in close cooperation with Syntacor – part of Yadro – at our own funds."

The project is being led by a new subsidiary, Yadro Microprocessors, established last year following the company's acquisition of a majority share of Syntacore in 2019. It represents a shift in focus for the company. "Yadro is a key OpenPower Foundation member and one of largest contributors in the OpenPower hard and software ecosystem," Galybina told us.

"We leverage a full stack of technologies to address our partners' and customers' demand. Our wide product portfolio incorporates a whole variety of microprocessor architectures, including OpenPower, Intel x86, Arm, MIPS, and RISC-V is coming."

There's no such shock to be found from Syntacore's involvement, though. The company was a founding member of RISC-V International, the not-for-profit organisation which oversees the RISC-V standards and works to encourage adoption and further development. Its first RISC-V parts were released in 2015, and its current product range spans 32-bit and 64-bit implementations – including a 32-bit open-source microcontroller core dubbed SCR1 MCU.

The parts developed by the Yadro Microprocessor group will, the company confirmed, include 12nm system-on-chip designs for single-board computers, tablets, workstations, and servers, launching under the Yadro EL product line – starting with a single-board computer dubbed the EL Construct DevKit, which uses a Syntacore SCR7 processor with four RISC-V cores running at 1.5GHz.

The EL Construct T, meanwhile, is based on Syntacore's upcoming SCR9 design with eight energy-efficiency cores running between 1.5GHz and 2GHz, coprocessors for graphics, video, and image processing, and built-in USB Type-C connectivity – ideal for its target market of tablets.

The flagship parts, and the ones which have drawn Rostec's eye, are dubbed EL Suprema. Starting at 12nm, with a view to moving to 7nm or 6nm process nodes in a future release, the chips will offer up to 64 Syntacore SCR9 RISC-V cores running between 2.5GHz and 3GHz, alongside extensions for virtualization and vector operations.

This won't be Russia's first look at making a processor for the local market, mind you: the Moscow Centre of SPARC Technologies opened its order books for desktops and servers built around native Elbrus chips in 2015 following the release of the first Elbrus chip, Elbrus 2000, in 2001. The latest design, Elbrus-16S, was unveiled in 2019 as a 16-core part running at 2GHz on a 16nm process – putting it at an equal clock speed to the planned RISC-V chips with twice the cores to boot.

The news comes as China becomes increasingly focused on RISC-V, most recently supporting work on a high-performance processor family dubbed XiangShan, or "Fragrant Hills", alongside a separate effort to build 2,000 RISC-V-powered laptops by the end of 2022 – three years ahead of the admittedly larger-scale Russian project's schedule.

India, too, has been working towards independence from foreign technology firms as part of its "Atmanirbhar Bharat" programme for self-sufficiency, turning to RISC-V to power a range of devices – including, it hopes, supercomputers.

Yadro confirmed that its roadmap sees the RISC-V parts reaching to 2023 and beyond, but could not comment on pricing or availability – "especially," Galybina told us, "given all the uncertainty on the semiconductor market today."

Rostec did not respond to a request for comment. ®

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