Chinese schools testing 10,000 locally made RISC-V-ish PCs

Today's lesson covers the potential for Loongson's made-in-China architecture to hurt Microsoft and Intel

China's long march towards creation and adoption of its own information technology stack has taken a long stride forward after a school district commenced a trial of 10,000 PCs powered by domestically designed processors.

As revealed in a post on social messaging service QQ, the city of Hebi – population 1.5 million – has installed nearly 10,000 PCs powered by Loongson's 3A5000 CPU.

The spec sheet for the 3A5000 lists it as a quad-core device, with each core including a 64KB private L1 instruction cache, a private L1 data cache of the same size, and a 256KB private L2 cache. A 16 megabyte L3 cache is shared between all four cores.

The device runs at between 2.3GHz and 2.5GHz, includes a pair of 72-bit DDR4-3200 controllers, and consumes 35 watts when running at 2.5GHz.

The processor runs Loongson's own LoongArch instruction system, a RISC ISA that blends ideas from MIPS and RISC-V.

LoongArch is arguably China's most advanced locally developed instruction set. Its matching software ecosystem is also decently developed, with a cut of Linux dubbed LoongOS already available and big-in-China apps ported to the platform.

The QQ post states that the PCs will run the Unity OS – a cut of Debian favoured in China – and WPS Office, which is a productivity suite created by Chinese developer Kingsoft. A classroom management platform is also present, as is a management platform allowing the City of Hebi to manage the PC fleet.

Loongson's post reveals that it will use the Hebi implementation to promote its offerings to other users around China.

Which is where things get interesting. Chinese state media last year counted 518,000 schools around China, attended by 195 million students and served by 18.8 million teachers.

Annual PC shipments for the entire world reached 241.8 million in 2023, according to analyst firm Gartner.

With Beijing increasingly keen on replacing Western tech with local products, mass implementation at Chinese schools could account for a year's worth of PC shipments at current purchasing rates.

Let's imagine that China makes that happen in five years – it would effectively render a fifth of the PC market unavailable to Microsoft, AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm.

Now ask yourself whether whoever it is tending your retirement savings knows that could happen.

If you're curious to know more about the 3A5000, AliExpress offers plenty of laptops, desktops, and motherboards powered by the processor. They're not cheap, but vendors have hundreds of them ready to dispatch. ®

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