Chinese web giant Baidu backs RISC-V for the datacenter

Gee, why could that be? Nah, not that. AI contender might just want better SmartNICs

Chinese RISC-V upstart StarFive has revealed that Chinese web giant Baidu has become an investor, to advance use of the open source processor design in the datacenter.

On Chinese social media service QQ, StarFive wrote that it would "work with Baidu to promote the implementation of different forms of high-performance RISC-V products in datacenter scenarios."

"The close cooperation between the two parties will promote the process of RISC-V industrialization, accelerate the innovation of computing power in datacenters, and provide new possibilities for the complex and changing demands on computing power in the AI era," the post added.

It's unclear if that means Baidu is interested in RISC-V CPUs, or if the investment is driven by a desire to have the open source architecture serve other roles in its infrastructure.

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StarFive already offers two RISC-V processors it says can fill a role in the datacenter. The 64-bit U-series is suggested as capable of big data applications. The Dubhe Series is suggested for roles such as computational storage, or driving a SmartNIC. The latter application is helped by StarFive claiming Dubhe is the first RISC-V silicon to support virtualization.

Baidu is a known SmartNIC user but appears not to have disclosed the processor it uses in the devices.

The Chinese giant has also previously said it feels little pain from US sanctions on some technology exports to China. But execs also stated that Baidu has plans to develop alternatives to banned imports.

And now, just four months after those remarks, comes news that Baidu is sinking cash into one of China's most capable RISC-V houses.

Baidu, of course, has long based its business on AI and recently announced its ERNIE chatbot. With that reveal it detailed what execs asserted was a new twist on datacenter computing stacks, designed to facilitate large-scale AI deployments.

Such rigs clearly suggest a need for lots of datacenter silicon. And StarFive already suggests its processors are up to AI jobs such as machine vision for autonomous cars.

Meanwhile Baidu's peer, Tencent last week told investors it can get all the chips it needs to build its own large AI models. ®

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