from the chip-off-the-old...chip? dept.
Chinese-designed "Dhyana" x86 processors based on AMD's Zen microarchitecture are beginning to surface from Chinese chip producer Hygon. The processors come as the fruit of AMD's x86 IP licensing agreements with its China-based partners and break the decades-long stranglehold on x86 held by the triumvirate of Intel, AMD and VIA Technologies. Details are also emerging that outline how AMD has managed to stay within the boundaries of the x86 licensing agreements but still allow Chinese-controlled interests to design and sell processors based on the Zen design.
AMD's official statements indicate the company does not sell its final chip designs to its China-based partners. Instead, AMD allows them to design their own processors tailored for the Chinese server market. But the China-produced Hygon "Dhyana" processors are so similar to AMD's EPYC processors that Linux kernel developers have listed vendor IDs and family series numbers as the only difference. In fact, Linux maintainers have simply ported over the EPYC support codes to the Dhyana processor and note that they have successfully run the same patches on AMD's EPYC processors, implying there is little to no differentiation between the chips.
The new chips are surfacing against the backdrop of the trade war between the US and China that could escalate quickly, likely reinforcing China's long-held opinion that a lack of native processor production could be a strategic liability. Today's wars are won with chips, and their strategic importance certainly isn't lost on those in the halls of power. In fact, the Obama administration blocked Intel from selling Xeon processors to China in 2015 over concerns the chips were fueling the country's nuclear programs, and subsequent actions by the US have largely prevented China from achieving the technical know-how and equipment to develop its own chips through acquisitions and mergers.
That makes it even more surprising that AMD has managed to establish a franchise that allows Chinese processor vendors to develop and sell x86 processors in spite of US regulations and the licensing restrictions with Intel, but now more information is coming to light about how AMD pulled off the feat.
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According to VR World and HPCwire, the U.S. government has blacklisted "high technology" shipments to the National Supercomputing Center Changsha (NSCC-CS), National Supercomputing Center Guangzhou (NSCC-GZ), National Supercomputing Center Tianjin (NSCC-TJ), and the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT) in China. This effectively means that these major supercomputing facilities can no longer purchase Intel Xeon chips. Tianhe-2, the world's fastest supercomputer since June 2013 according to Top500, is located at the NUDT in Guangzhou and uses a total of 32,000 Intel Xeon and 48,000 Xeon Phi chips.
The main claim of the Bureau of Industry and Security's End-User Review Committee (ERC) is that NUDT, which used US-manufactured parts to produce the Tianhe-1A and Tianhe-2 supercomputers located at the National Supercomputing Centers in Changsha, Guangzhou, and Tianjin, is believed to be engaged in activities related to nuclear explosives.
The U.S. also uses supercomputers for nuclear weapons research.
The news coincides with the Intel Developer Forum 2015 in Shenzhen, China, at which the company announced new Braswell, SoFIA, and Cherry Trail chips, among other products. VR World speculates that the move could cost Intel $1 billion on lost Broadwell-EP Xeon E5v4 sales and accelerate the development of homegrown Chinese processors.
Intel may be planning to sue Microsoft for its plans to include x86 emulation in Windows 10 for ARM machines:
In celebrating the x86 architecture's 39th birthday yesterday—the 8086 processor first came to market on June 8, 1978—Intel took the rather uncelebratory step of threatening any company working on x86 emulator technology.
[...] The post doesn't name any names, but it's not too hard to figure out who it's likely to be aimed at: Microsoft, perhaps with a hint of Qualcomm. Later in the year, companies including Asus, HP, and Lenovo will be releasing Windows laptops using Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor. This is not the first time that Windows has been released on ARM processors—Microsoft's first attempt to bring Windows to ARM was the ill-fated Windows 8-era Windows RT in 2012—but this time around there's a key difference. Windows RT systems could not run any x86 applications. Windows 10 for ARM machines, however, will include a software-based x86 emulator that will provide compatibility with most or all 32-bit x86 applications.
This compatibility makes these ARM-based machines a threat to Intel in a way that Windows RT never was; if WinARM can run Wintel software but still offer lower prices, better battery life, lower weight, or similar, Intel's dominance of the laptop space is no longer assured. The implication of Intel's post is that the chip giant isn't just going to be relying on technology to secure its position in this space, but the legal system, too.
Amid the ongoing Meltdown fiasco, Intel has only one way to go in the data center... down. Intel may be forced to offer discounts or rebates to prevent customers from eventually moving to AMD x86 chips (such as Epyc) or even ARM chips:
Intel chips back 98% of data center operations, according to industry consultancy IDC. [...] Microsoft said on Tuesday the patches necessary to secure the threats could have a significant performance impact on servers.
[...] For Gleb Budman's company, San Mateo-based online storage firm Backblaze, building with ARM chips would not be difficult. "If ARM provides enough computing power at lower cost or lower power than x86, it would be a strong incentive for us to switch," said Budman. "If the fix for x86 results in a dramatically decreased level of performance, that might increasingly push in favor of switching to ARM."
Infinitely Virtual, a Los Angeles-based cloud computing vendor, is counting on Intel to replace equipment or offer a rebate to make up for the loss in computing power, Chief Executive Adam Stern said in an interview. "If Intel doesn't step up and do something to make this right then we're going to have to punish them in the marketplace by not purchasing their products," said Stern, whose company relies exclusively on Intel processors.
[...] Both Qualcomm and Cavium are developing ARM chips aimed at data centers. Cavium said it aimed to rival the performance of Intel chips for applications like databases and the content-delivery networks that help speed things like how fast online videos load.
Submitted via IRC for guy_
While the U.S. administration said on Friday it had reached a deal to put ZTE back in business after the company pays a $1.3 billion fine and makes management changes, the plan has run into resistance in Congress, indicating ZTE was still far from out of the woods. Also, ZTE is yet to confirm the deal.
"The recent ZTE incident made everyone more clearly realize that however advanced one may be in mobile payment, without the mobile, the chips and the operating system, you still cannot compete," Chinese media reports cited Tecent's Pony Ma as saying at a forum in Shenzhen on Saturday.
[...] Tencent is looking into ways it could help advance China's domestic chip industry, which could include leveraging its huge data demand to urge domestic chip suppliers to come up with better solutions, or using its WeChat platform to support application developments based on Chinese chips, Ma said.
"It would probably be better if we could get in to support semiconductor R&D, but that is perhaps admittedly not our strong suit and may need the help of others in the supply chain."
Chinese companies are manufacturing chips nearly identical to AMD's Epyc server CPUs, using two joint ventures with AMD. This move comes after the US blacklisted certain Chinese supercomputing centers in 2015 in an attempt to prevent them from using Intel Xeon chips, and more recently, Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE was banned from buying components from US companies. China's Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer (formerly #1 on the TOP500 list) also uses domestically designed Sunway SW26010 manycore chips.
China isn't eager to embrace another American chipmaker like AMD. In response, AMD established two joint ventures with Chinese holding company THATIC -- one with Chengdu Haiguang Microelectronics Technology (CHMT), and another with Haiguang IC Design, also known as Hygon.
AMD owns a majority stake in CHMT, which ensures that its IP isn't transferred to THATIC. THATIC owns a majority stake in Hygon, which licenses AMD's IP from CHMT. Hygon designs the chips, and CHMT produces the chips through a suitable foundry and then sends them back to Hygon for packaging, marketing, and sales.
This arrangement seemingly placates American and Chinese regulators -- AMD's IP isn't being passed to a Chinese company, and a Chinese chipmaker gains access to superior data center CPU designs. AMD generates less revenues through these JVs than it would through direct sales, but it still gains a foothold in China's massive data center market. But more importantly, this move could wound Intel.
Good luck maintaining control of your "IP". As for the pain?
Many big companies, including Microsoft and Baidu, started installing AMD's cheaper chips in their data centers. In a meeting with Nomura Instinet analyst Romit Shah in June, then-CEO Brian Krzanich admitted that AMD was gaining ground, and Intel was trying to prevent it from gaining a "15% to 20%" share of the data center market. That admission was stunning, since Intel traditionally controlled more than 99% of the data center market with its Xeon chips. Intel's data center group grew its revenues by 11% to $19.1 billion last year, and accounted for 30% of its top line. Epyc was already a thorn in Intel's side, but AMD's sponsorship of Chinese clones could throttle its sales in mainland China, which accounted for 24% of its sales last year. Its total sales in the region only rose 6% in 2017, compared to 20% growth in 2016.
Zhaoxin, a joint venture between Via Technologies and the Chinese government, this week for the first time displayed its upcoming x86-compatible CPU, the KaiXian KX-6000. The SoC features eight cores running at 3 GHz and increases performance over its predecessor by at least 50%.
The KaiXian KX-6000 is a successor to the KX-5000 CPU launched earlier this year. Both chips integrate eight-core x86-64 cores with 8 MB of L2 cache, a DirectX 11.1-capable iGPU with an up-to-date display controller, a dual-channel DDR4-3200 memory controller, contemporary I/O interfaces (PCIe, SATA, USB, etc), and so on. The key differences between the KaiXian KX-5000 and the KaiXian KX-6000 are frequencies and manufacturing technology: the former is produced using TSMC's 28 nm fabrication process and runs at up to 2 GHz, whereas the latter is made using TSMC's 16 nm technology and operates at up to 3 GHz. Zhaoxin claims that the Kaixian KX-6000 offers compute performance comparable to that of Intel's 7th Generation Core i5 processor, which is a quad-core non-Hyper-Threaded CPU. Obviously, performance claims like that have to be verified, yet a 50% performance bump over the direct predecessor already seems beefy enough.
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Chinese Company Produces Chips Closely Based on AMD's Zen Microarchitecture
The process of AMD ramping up its EPYC efforts involves a lot of 'first-step' vendor interaction. Having been a very minor player for so long, all the big guns are taking it slowly with AMD's newest hardware in verifying whether it is suitable for their workloads and customers. The next company to tick that box is Oracle, who is announcing today that they will be putting bare metal EPYC instances available in its cloud offering.
The new E-series instances will start with Standard E2, costing around $0.03 per core per hour, up to 64 cores per server, Oracle is stating that this pricing structure is 66% less than the average per-core instance on the market. One bare metal standard instance, BM.Standard E2.52, will offer dual EPYC 7551 processors at 2.0 GHz, with 512 GB of DDR4, dual 25GbE networking, and up to 1PB of remote block storage. Another offering is the E2.64 instance, which will offer 16 cores by comparison.
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AMD has no plans to license its Zen 2 microarchitecture to the Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co. Ltd. (THATIC) joint venture:
AMD CEO Lisa Su confirmed to Tom's Hardware at Computex 2019 that the company isn't licensing further chip designs to its China-backed joint venture. That means that AMD's chip-producing joint venture in China will be confined to the Zen architecture that debuted in first-gen Ryzen and EPYC Naples processors, but will not move forward with designs based on AMD's new Zen 2 microarchitecture that powers the third-gen Ryzen and EPYC Rome processors.
[...] The agreement allowed Hygon, a Chinese server vendor, to design specialized processors based upon AMD's Zen microarchitecture, which is the underlying design of AMD's Ryzen and EPYC processors. Many of the architectural customizations consisted of specialized cryptographic elements that meet the requirements of the Chinese government, with the first products consisting of Hygon's 'Dhyana' x86 processors that appeared to be near-replicas of AMD's EPYC data center processors. We are told there are other optimizations to the architecture that are designed specifically for the Chinese market, but we haven't been given more details. Sugon, a Chinese government-backed server vendor, also had plans for a Zen 2-based exascale supercomputer, but the status of that project is now unknown.
[...] We asked Lisa Su if the company would continue working with the THATIC joint venture amid the U.S.-China trade war, and Su said that while the company is continuing the joint venture, "we are not discussing any additional technology transfers," and elaborated that most of the work took place on the JV's side, while there "is not a lot of work on the AMD side."
"THATIC was a single-generation technology license, and there are no additional technology licenses," Su explained, though she did not clarify if the decision not to extend the technology transfers was a direct result of the trade war. That means that the technology transfer, which provided THATIC with access to the first-gen Zen microarchitecture, will not be extended to allow the Chinese chipmaker access to AMD's Zen 2 microarchitecture.
Also at TechSpot.