Tencent Cloud boasts it's made the world's best AI silicon and SmartNIC

Offers scant details to back assertions, won't say where chips have been deployed

Tencent Cloud, China's third-largest cloud by revenue behind Alibaba and Huawei, has revealed that three home-grown chips are powering its services – and claimed they offer world-beating performance.

The company announced the silicon last week, but offered few details in either Chinese or English.

A post to micro-blog QQ.com offers as much detail as The Register has been able to find anywhere – revealing three designs but not detailing architecture, manufacturing process, or anything of substance that would let the world understand if the firm's claims are anything more than empty bragging.

What we do know is that Tencent's three chips are:

  • Zixiao 紫霄, an "AI reasoning chip" said to offer performance 100 per cent better than rivals. The chip appears to have been manufactured and to have passed tests, but it is unclear if the design is in production.
  • Xuanling 玄灵, a SmartNIC/DPU said to run virtualization and I/O for storage and networking so that a cloud host's CPU doesn'’t have to. Tencent Cloud claims the device imposes zero requirements on a host's CPU and is ideal for running containers. The scant info about Xuanling doesn't mention security isolation – a task that AWS and others promote as a great benefit of their own SmartNICs.
  • Canghai 沧海, a video transcoding chip that Tencent says delivers a compression rate 30 per cent above that available from others in the industry, thanks to multi-core expansion architecture, a high-performance coding pipeline, and a hierarchical memory layout. Tencent's QQ post also mentions benchmark results from 2020, leaving The Register unable to assess if the performance claims apply to this year's model or older silicon.

Tencent Cloud already operates in the USA, Brazil, Germany, and Russia, plus Japan, South Korea, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Like its rival Chinese clouds, Tencent is keen to expand outside the Middle Kingdom, but the company has so far offered little detail on where its homebrew silicon has been deployed.

Industry figures constantly tell The Register that cloud buyers are happy to buy from multiple clouds if one offers a performance advantage. Absent solid performance information and technical details, such buyers may therefore struggle to understand if Zixiao, Xuanling and Canghai make Tencent Cloud worthy of their consideration. ®

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