Beijing issues list of approved CPUs – with no Intel or AMD

2024 may be the year of Linux On The Arm-or-RISC-desktop as China moves away from Western tech

AMD and Intel are not present on a list of processors approved by China's Information Security Evaluation Center.

A December 26, 2023 document lists 18 CPUs Beijing has signed off as suitable for use by locals. The x86 architecture does make the list, but only in chips made by Shanghai Zhaoxin Integrated Circuit Co., Ltd – which is minority-owned by Taiwan's Via Technologies and holds a license to produce x86 processors. Zhaoxin's CPUs are no match for Intel's Xeons or AMD's Epycs, but can power modest desktops.

The other approved chip shops make processors powered by Arm cores or, in the case of Loongson Technologies, the RISC-V architecture.

The list also mentions approved desktop and server operating systems. Only Chinese code is present, namely:

  • The Galaxy Kirin Linux derivative developed by China's National University of Defense Technology;
  • The Tongxin OS, a Debian variant developed by Shanghai-based UnionTech;
  • Fangde OS, another domestic Linux.

Databases also make the list, and again nothing from Western devs made the cut. But Alibaba Cloud's PolarDB is mentioned, as is Tencent’s TDSQL and a handful of other made-in-China efforts.

Why is The Register reporting a months-old document? For starters, we missed it during the holiday season. Second, the Financial Times found it over the weekend and reported that publication of the list accelerated efforts in China to replace Western tech and hardware with locally developed kit.

The FT chatted to some IT shops inside China and they confirmed that they're phasing out items like PCs running Windows, because shop-at-home mandates have taken force.

Those mandates were first floated in around 2014, and bobbed up again in May 2022, when a two year deadline to get the job done was mooted.

Which means Chinese orgs may have about five weeks left to switch to locally made hardware and software.

That's where things could get very interesting – because many Middle Kingdom businesses will have built apps and automations around Western tech. Rebuilding those tools won't be a quick or easy task.

Or maybe they don't need to, given that past edicts to shift to Chinese tech have been repeated several times.

Indeed, China often repeats itself. Last week, authorities again called on web platforms to police more vigilantly the use of provocative typos and puns that can be construed as criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. One example of such puns is the Chinese word for "Alpaca," which can be interpreted as a crude sexual term. Other puns and typos mock Chinese leadership – all with the plausible deniability of having innocently typed one character incorrectly.

And sometimes China updates its positions, as happened last Friday when its Cyberspace Administration published new regulations on cross-border data flows that altered previous rules to allow Chinese businesses to export business-related data that doesn’t include personal information. Previous rules required all data exports to be approved. The revised rules ease that requirement and should make life easier for Chinese exporters. ®

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