China to upgrade mainstream RISC-V chips every six months

Home-baked silicon is the way forward

Updated China is gut punching Moore's Law and the roughly one-year cadence for major chip releases adopted by the Intel, AMD, Nvidia and others.

The government-backed Chinese Academy of Sciences, which is developing open-source RISC-V performance processor, says it will release major design upgrades every six months. CAS is hoping that the accelerated release of chip designs will build up momentum and support for its open-source project.

RISC-V is based on an open-source instruction architecture, and is royalty free, meaning companies can adopt designs without paying licensing fees.

CAS' first XiangShan chip, called Yanqihu, was taped out in July 2021. Its successor, called Nanhu, was announced on Monday with major performance and architectural upgrades, and will be out early in 2022.

"For us, we want to launch a startup to commercialize, but we hope there are some other companies to do that," said Yungang Bao, professor at Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Computing Technology, during a presentation at the RISC-V Summit in San Francisco.

"We would like to see a company like Red Hat for RISC-V," Yungang said.

China has made the development of homegrown chips a national priority to catch up with the US. China's also backing chips made with designs from ARM, which charges licensing fees for its intellectual property. Alibaba has deployed Arm-powered server chips in its cloud service and open-sourced some designs.

The six-month release cycle is tied to the increased pace of new features being ratified by RISC-V Foundation, which created the ISA.

"One of the things that's really important to realize is in 2020 we ratified zero specs. In 2021 we did 16, including some huge things like vector," Mark Himelstein, chief technology officer of RISC-V International, told The Register in an interview on Monday.

The first XiangShan chip, called Yanqihu, was compared to SiFive's P550, and viewed as a mainstream computing competitor to ARM's Cortex-A76 core. Yanqihu was made optimized for the 28-nm process.

The new XiangShan chip, called Nanhu, is designed for the 14-nm process, ostensibly to be made by SMIC. It is based on the 64-bit RV64GCBK design, with the BK identifying support for new extensions.

Given the cooperative nature of RISC-V, some of Nanhu's new features draw from SiFive designs like the Block Inclusive Cache.

In a slide deck the Nanhu chip was benchmarked on SPEC2006 as being anywhere up to twice faster than its predecessor. The new dual-core chip design operates at a frequency of 2.0GHz, compared to the predecessor chip, which was single-core at 1.3GHz.

The design has a revised front-end and back-end designs to increase throughput and performance. The goal was "to achieve a higher branch prediction accuracy and higher fetch throughput," Yungang said in the presentation.

The new architecture optimizes the execution unit with support for more instructions, including bit manipulation and scalar crypto extensions.

"Now it also supports instruction fusion for common cases," Yungang said.

It also has a IEEE754-compliant floating point unit called Fudian.

For the load store unit, there is support for new features that include customized and configurable physical memory attributes, physical memory protection, and ECC for all three levels - L1, L2, L3 - of cache. Yungang said there was a 30 per cent increase in IPC (instructions per cycle) in memory sensitive benchmarks. ®

Updated at 0145 UTC, December 8 to add

Yungang Bao has contacted The Register to advise that he misspoke when he said "we want to launch a startup to commercialize", and that the Academy of Sciences' Institute of Computing Technology does not actually intend to launch a startup, though hopes others will commercialize its work.

Similar topics

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • Xi Jinping himself weighs in on how Big Tech should deploy FinTech
    Beijing also outlines its GovTech vision and gets very excited about data

    China's government has outlined its vision for digital services, expected behavior standards at China's big tech companies, and how China will put data to work everywhere – with president Xi Jinping putting his imprimatur to some of the policies.

    Xi's remarks were made in his role as director of China’s Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, which met earlier this week. The subsequent communiqué states that at the meeting Xi called for "financial technology platform enterprises to return to their core business" and "support platform enterprises in playing a bigger role in serving the real economy and smoothing positive interplay between domestic and international economic flows."

    The remarks outline an attempt to balance Big Tech's desire to create disruptive financial products that challenge monopolies, against efforts to ensure that only licensed and regulated entities offer financial services.

    Continue reading
  • China is trolling rare-earth miners online and the Pentagon isn't happy
    Beijing-linked Dragonbridge flames biz building Texas plant for Uncle Sam

    The US Department of Defense said it's investigating Chinese disinformation campaigns against rare earth mining and processing companies — including one targeting Lynas Rare Earths, which has a $30 million contract with the Pentagon to build a plant in Texas.

    Earlier today, Mandiant published research that analyzed a Beijing-linked influence operation, dubbed Dragonbridge, that used thousands of fake accounts across dozens of social media platforms, including Facebook, TikTok and Twitter, to spread misinformation about rare earth companies seeking to expand production in the US to the detriment of China, which wants to maintain its global dominance in that industry. 

    "The Department of Defense is aware of the recent disinformation campaign, first reported by Mandiant, against Lynas Rare Earth Ltd., a rare earth element firm seeking to establish production capacity in the United States and partner nations, as well as other rare earth mining companies," according to a statement by Uncle Sam. "The department has engaged the relevant interagency stakeholders and partner nations to assist in reviewing the matter.

    Continue reading
  • Chinese startup hires chip godfather and TSMC vet to break into DRAM biz
    They're putting a crew together, and Beijing's tossed in $750m to get things started

    A Chinese state-backed startup has hired legendary Japanese chip exec Yukio Sakamoto as part of a strategy to launch a local DRAM industry.

    Chinese press last week reported that Sakamoto has joined an outfit named SwaySure, also known as Shenzhen Sheng Weixu Technology Company or Sheng Weixu for brevity.

    Sakamoto's last gig was as senior vice president of Chinese company Tsinghua Unigroup, where he was hired to build up a 100-employee team in Japan with the aim of making DRAM products in Chongqing, China. That effort reportedly faced challenges along the way – some related to US sanctions, others from recruitment.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022