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Alibaba's research arm promises server-class RISC-V processor due this year

And teases a laptop to show off its current silicon – running the open edition of Huawei’s CentOS spinout


Alibaba's research arm, the Damo Academy, has promised to deliver a server-grade RISC-V processor later this year, showed off a RISC-V-powered laptop running the open source cut of Huawei's CentOS spinout, and talked up a growing community working on the permissively licensed CPU instruction set architecture.

News of the forthcoming server processor – dubbed the C930 – emerged at last week's Xuantie RISC-V Ecological Conference held in Shenzhen. Numerous Chinese media reported that Damo reps announced the imminent debut of a processor that, like other chips cooked up by the Alibaba lab and its T-Head chip design unit, are aimed at server-class workloads. It's 2024, so that means AI is also on the agenda.

Details of the chip were not discussed.

But Damo Academy folk did discuss a new laptop called the RuyiBOOK that will run the T-Head C910. That chip, curiously, no longer appears on the chip designer's website but the Wayback Machine reveals that it offered between one and four cores, a 12-stage superscalar pipeline optimized for arithmetic operations, and a design suitable for edge servers, AI, and telecoms applications.

Now it's apparently suitable for laptops, too.

Interestingly, this laptop runs openEuler – the open version of the EulerOS that Huawei created by adapting Red Hat Linux. It also runs Ding Talk – Alibaba's Zoom-and-Teams-like collaboration suite – and Libre Office.

A device that can run those packages will well and truly do the job for many Chinese knowledge workers and consumers – without relying on US tech.

Reports out of the Ecological Conference suggest another topic of conversation was a "swordless alliance" of Chinese tech companies committed to advancing the local RISC-V ecosystem.

It's not hard to see why Chinese tech giants would want to do so: US-led sanctions mean they may never again see the most advanced silicon designs developed by the likes of Nvidia, Intel, AMD, and Arm. Creating their own alternatives may be the only way forward, and the RISC-V license gives Chinese chip shops plenty to work with.

It does the same India's techs, and indeed India has prioritized developing its own RISC-V processors. So far, India has little to show for that effort, and has missed deadlines for revealing designs more sophisticated than its current very modest 32-bit offerings. ®

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