Tech war: China bets on open-source RISC-V for chip design to minimise potential damage from 'being cut off' by US sanctions
A growing number of Chinese chip design firms have adopted open-source RISC-V in their chip designs as an alternative to Intel's proprietary X86 and Arm's architecture, in a bid to minimise potential damage from US sanctions and to save on licensing fees.[....] "[This] gives Chinese companies access to a global open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) ecosystem," said Stewart Randall, head of electronics and embedded software at consultancy Intralink. "So Chinese companies can have access to, and create, their own cores or chips based on it."However, some industry experts said China's adoption of open-source RISC-V architecture would not shield them from all US sanction risks, as America still holds the trump card when it comes to electronic design automation (EDA) tools, the key software needed for chip design, as well as chip manufacturing technologies.
A growing number of Chinese chip design firms have adopted open-source RISC-V in their chip designs as an alternative to Intel's proprietary X86 and Arm's architecture, in a bid to minimise potential damage from US sanctions and to save on licensing fees.
[....] "[This] gives Chinese companies access to a global open standard instruction set architecture (ISA) ecosystem," said Stewart Randall, head of electronics and embedded software at consultancy Intralink. "So Chinese companies can have access to, and create, their own cores or chips based on it."
However, some industry experts said China's adoption of open-source RISC-V architecture would not shield them from all US sanction risks, as America still holds the trump card when it comes to electronic design automation (EDA) tools, the key software needed for chip design, as well as chip manufacturing technologies.
If you really want to create your own cores from scratch, without licensing anyone else's IP, is it truly possible to do so with RISC-V?
Tech war: China bets on open-source RISC-V for chip design to minimise potential damage from 'being cut off' by US sanctions
What is really astounding, is that the Intel architecture has maintained dominance for so long. Back in the dark ages, there were three contenders: National Semiconductor, Motorola, and Intel. NS had a clean architecture and well designed instruction set. Motorola was a bit messier, but OK. Intel's architecture was a total kludge.
Somehow,Intel won. Better marketing? Back room deals? No idea, bit the x86/x64 architecture has only gotten kludgier over the decades.
IMHO it's actually a combination of several factors:
In short, had IBM chosen another CPU back then (and it almost doesn't matter which one), that other CPU would likely now be the industry standard.
Note that IBM did not, at that time, take the PC seriously (thus the open design and lack of IP protections), thus they probably chose the CPU mainly based on cost.
I think that is correct, but completely unjustified by everything else you said. The question is not why a particular architecture won the battle in the early eighties. The question is why we are still using a descendant of that architecture 40 years later. And the answer is that in each subsequent technology generation consumers valued compatibility with their existing install base over any other factor.
Software lock-in is a powerful phenomena. IBM had figured this out by the 1960s.
Backward compatibility with an existing expensive collection of software is also a big draw.
Can I interest you in a new processor that will require you to re-purchase and re-write all of your expensive software?
Now with the rise of Linux, this problem began to disappear. Once the OS and compiler(s) are ported for other architectures, the huge software base tends to come along for a fairly low cost. But that was not true for much of computing history. Especially in the 1980s and prior.
Once IBM chose Intel x86 for their PC -- we were stuck with it for decades.
Now we are in the situation where the entire value proposition of both Windows and Intel x86 is nothing more than the compatibility with the existing software base. There are both better processors and better operating systems. Yet the WinTel duopoly will continue for some time just because of the tremendous need of backward compatibility with bass ackward systems.
Being code translatable-ish from the 8080 and the design win for the IBM pc didn't hurt.
Sometimes just having good enough tech makes other things the deciding factor.
Like code base compatibility supported by some of the kludges.
Risc-V could end up that way.
How good are the open implementations. Do they include all the tricks that a modern processor uses to go fast?
It takes a lot of tricks to get a classic single instruction stream cpu clocking multiGhz with multiple instructions per clock.
IF SOapbox,present()The can you go it alone question probably applies to everybody. There are critical pieces spread over the world. EDA tools for design, sim, and process modeling, chip architects in many different directions, fabrication tools and knowhow, raw materials, packaging, and systems integration to make the stuff do something useful. I'd bet there is no single country that can totally go it alone. Humanity did amazing things when we all worked together. Too bad we can't agree on a common set of rules. Attempts by one cuontry or another to get ahead are lowering the living standard for all. The get aheaders included.ENDIF
Risc-V could end up that way.
How good are the open implementations.
If by "open" you mean "Chinese implementations of the open Risc-V architecture", they're pretty bad. Actually, really bad: Buggy hardware, buggy software, almost nonexistent documentation, and poor performance. Imagine buying some random x86 box off Aliexpress which outside of the CPU is full of semi-unknown support chips and partly-debugged circuitry, and that's the level of the hardware. We have a couple of Risc-V devices here and each one has been a massive headache just to get going, with a lot of the capabilities unexplored for lack of documentation and huge amounts of time wasted discovering and working around hardware bugs. The icing on the cake is that each one only seems to last 6-12 months before it's abandoned and replaced with something else with a new set of bugs and problems.
It's really frustrating to have this nice new architecture available but the implementations are so totally underwhelming in terms of functionality, documentation, and performance. So at the moment I think it's more a bargaining chip than anything else, and I haven't caught wind of anything new coming down the track that would change that.
So, just like no-name ARM SoCs but with RISC-V cores. Hmmm...
It is a mistake to assume that bad implementations of an idea at present mean it will always be bad.
These new fangled automobile thingies will never be a success. They are noisy, smelly and unreliable. They make too much noise. You can actually break your arm if it backfires while you are crank starting it. And worst of all -- they frighten the horses! I can confidently predict that the beautiful horse and buggy will be with us forever and these new automobile thingies are just a temporary fad.
i find it amazing that you guys go thru all the trouble.i hope, at least, you're getting this garba... err.. stuff for free!and thx for the heads-up. somebody's got to look to see...
ah, also, if the butcher starts eating his/her own sausages then ... well ... i guess i'll eat them too.
there were three contenders: National Semiconductor, Motorola, and Intel
Texas Instruments? They bought National Semiconductor about 10 years ago, but they were a player in the "dark ages."
As awful as Russia may be, other not-yet-quite-enemies of the United States have taken good notice of how the US uses its private tech sector to bully other countries around, and how vulnerable they are to the whims of the administration du jour when they rely on US tech.In the case of China, they first saw it when the US decided to target Huawei.
I am not surprised one bit that China wants to regain its tech independence. I won't be surprised when bona fide US allies quietly decide to progressively follow suit and regain their own independence, just in case another crazy POTUS gets elected and the US changes tack with them.
The result is that the US will slowly slide into irrelevance. Was it worth it, mostly for crass hegemonic purposes, as opposed to defending itself against a real, imminent military danger, I'm not sure.
China and the US went from being straight-up enemies for most of the Cold War to being frenemies since the 1990's. Exports to the US market, which really opened up during the Clinton administration in a big way, has been the engine of economic growth for China, and also why they've pegged their currency to the US dollar. While at the same time being the US's most difficult political enemy on the world stage.
The risks to the US involved in messing with China are far greater than messing with Russia: The main thing Russia can do short of launching their nukes is cut off oil and gas exports to Europe, which is exactly what Putin is starting to do but the Europeans are sorting it out at least for the short term, but can't really do too much of that because the Russian economy depends on those exports to be able to buy any imports from other countries so it's not something he's likely to quit cold turkey. Whereas China could crash the US dollar and really screw up a large percentage of American businesses very quickly if they wanted to, in addition to whatever they pulled militarily against US allies like South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Also, the US is a net exporter of gas now. The US oil & Gas industry is making a killing right now trying to supply that shortfall. That could be good, bad, whatever.....but cutting off O&G exports to Europe is a money making opportunity for the US.
the US was a net exporter of gas
FTFY. We were until fairly recently, but then the senile sundowning shithead stole an election and put an end to that. If we were still a net exporter of petroleum products, we wouldn't be paying $5+ per gallon at the pump.
Not that simple, things have been changing. China has been moving away from the dollar, trimming holdings and reducing exposure. Even if they could crash the dollar (to some extent) that would actually be good for US exporters, because suddenly US exports would be hugely more competitive on the world market. The real damage would be collateral, hurting other economies that rely on dollar-denominated stuff.
As awful as Russia may be, other not-yet-quite-enemies of the United States have taken good notice of how the US uses its private tech sector to bully other countries around
I mean, this is nothing new. Cuba is still under a US blockade against international law for 80 years now and the UN has been slamming them over it every single year for the last four decades. China itself has been hit by US sanctions several times and as recently as 2020 so it's not like this comes as any surprise to them, they've been planning independence from US tech for at least two years now as they announced in late 2020 IIRC when they published their current five year plan.
I've never understood the Cuba situation my whole life (it's an embargo, not a blockade; I've heard the Canadians find Cuba to be a very nice site for vacationing). I understand that there is a very vocal south Florida group made up of formerly wealthy Cubans that is deemed to be politically important, but it has surprised me how long they've managed to affect policy. For a long time, I suppose, the US wouldn't change policies while Castro was in power because that would mean he "won" or something, but really. If it really was about the evils of communism or whatever, history has showed that all you need to do is completely open and normalize relations and let Western consumerism do its job and the grand resorts and casinos [rarehistoricalphotos.com] (and McDonalds and Walmarts) will return and flood the island, it's just that it most likely won't be in control of the families that used to control them (which, of course, is the whole political sticking point to begin with).
It's quite a bit more complex than that, and has very little to do with dispossessed families. The embargo, such as it is, has been gently easing anyway.
Cuba has persistently presented itself as a hostile power to the USA, ever since Castro took over. This has never changed. Sure, they sometimes remember to put on the poor suffering martyr mask, but in geopolitical terms they've not been friendly to the USA in any way that I can think of, for decades. Now it's all very well to say that they don't have to - and it's true, because they don't have to. However, the USA doesn't have to lift the embargo either until Cuba stops being dickish.
If Cuba wanted to do a volte face and patch things up, there's a to-do list that they can follow. They just don't want to.
AND THAT MAKES THEM POOR SUFFERING MARTYRS UNDER THE GLEAMING FASCIST CORPORATE JACKBOOT OF NEOIMPERIALISM!!!
... or so they say.
They will love us if we just starve their children some more. And stop any shipments of modern medicine and technology. They WILL love us then.
You only love Cuba because it's communist. It's been run by a brutal Latin American dictator. The slogans probably sound good to your ear, though.
It's not "the people of Cuba" who run Cuba, but the Castro family, and they could have turned their back on communism at any point and opened up their economy TO THEIR OWN PEOPLE, but they never did. The govt still owns everything.
The embargo doesn't really affect the Castro family. It only hurts the regular people. Maybe you think capitalism/socialism/communism is a religious thing - anyone who doesn't agree with your preference is heathen and can be treated in a less humane way?
Brutal Latin America dictator? You mean like Batista?
Ah yes, a brutal dictator who engaged in such evils as building housing, schools, hospitals, but worst of all expelling the legitimate [themobmuseum.org] businessmen [themobmuseum.org] who flourished under the gentle regime of the US-backed Good Guy(tm) Batista and build those wonderful resorts and casinos among other legitimate businessmen pursuits such as empowering women to engage in sex work and overcoming unjust sanctions on consumer goods.
Yeah, you are full of shit. The government of Cuba explicitly allows private property [columbia.edu] by constitutional law and there have been various forms of state-sanctioned private enterprise in Cuba since the 80s.
Cuba has persistently presented itself as a hostile power to the USA, ever since Castro took over.
Oh, what did they do? Did they stage an invasion on America? Did they try to assassinate your president 300 times? Do they engage in hostile espionage against your country to this day? Have they made open and explicit attempts to prevent free trade between the US and other sovereign nations? To a country which formerly imported 80% of it's food?
Oh wait, that's the US doing all of those things against Cuba. Cut the crybully crap, Cuba is not the hostile actor here.
cuba is "bad" 'cause they allowed the soviets to install a nuclear launch facility... which ofc soviets did "out of the blue" one morning 'cause bored and not because of 'murikan nuclear tipped jupiter missiles stationed in turkey...
cuba violated the "NIMBY" principal.
The result is that the US will slowly slide into irrelevance.
Your geopolitical analysis is flawed. Here, take a look at this list of economies by size: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal) [wikipedia.org]Sure, if you just look at the US and China, the US is barely winning. But when you consider that the rest of the free world is as big as the US and China put together, and they are more likely to follow the lead of the US than that of China, things are a little different.The US is the undisputed leader of the free world, having an economy five times the size of it's nearest competitor. And the free world, having 60% of world GDP, is not going to slowly slide into irrelevance.
China produces a significant percentage of the world's chips domestically. In order to produce a chip, they need the design of that chip. Ergo, if the US (or much more importantly Taiwan and South Korea) cut them off, they can produce those chips themselves quite easily. Sure, they'd have to ignore foreign patents, but if they're already sanctioning you who cares?
But I for one won't complain if RISC machines make a comeback. They make at least as much sense as Intel's stuff, arguably significantly more sense.
Intel CPUs have been "RISC" for many years now. The CISC Intel instructions are translated into RISC instructions and run by a RISC core. To be totally precise, all modern CPUs are a hybrid of RISC and CISC, using design aspects of each that make sense. Thus, you could say modern CPUs are "mostly RISC."
this is a feeling, since i am no chip designer, but the CISC legacy of intel was prolly influenced by the biggest enabler *cough*m$*cough* which needed a cpu that was a "caset player" for windows software.so, like a win-cpu, not a fast, lean, smart cpu design where other OS software could make use of it.again, i have a feeling that cpu designers at intel sighed a breath of relief when linux came on to the scene and a chance to remove the cruft and add some risc?no linux happend, we'd prolly have >20 long CISC instruction sets gear for .NET intel chips.
RISC-V will be a real player I predict in some years. It's not totally "ready" right now, and it will take investment to bring it forward. Still, it is logical that CPUs will become commoditized like operating systems and infrastructure software have been.
In India, RISC-V is already a national computing platform officially.
A great step of an ancient civilization to digital sovereignty.
India only became an independent country ruled by Indians in 1947.I know you said "civilization" instead of country, but even that is not quite true, as the culture, laws, and political unity of ethnic groups is wildly different from the old civilizations of the subcontinent. (There was not just one!) Much of modern India is due to the British and not ancient India.
It is true that much of Indian culture goes back many centuries, but some people lose sight that India is a VERY young country still working out how to be a nation.
Are any of those actually available as silicon yet or are they all still FPGA soft-cores? The last time I looked they were even more preliminary than the Chinese-sourced ones.
In media I observed several tape-outs and user manuals available for some development boards. Though it's hard to obtain anything outside India.
India is big. And generally behind China in all electronics. The platform itself is mandatory government standard. Education, academy, small businesses, industry, military, everyone needs and will need many of these. Fabrication is still limited, growing. Any local production stays in India and will stay there for years, for sure.
I would not even buy any single board of that smuggled out just now, because I understand that would deprive some Indian child of important educative experience for lifetime. In compare to that, Chinese RISC-V dev kits are already a commodity.
If as you say, every board bought is taken from someone else, then they're a dead end. For most mass produced goods if you buy more, they make more. Electronics should scale well to higher production. If it can't answer higher demand with higher supply, then there's probably something wrong with the product or the producer.
Perhaps the producers' business models are milking some government subsidy rather than producing products? If the subsidy doesn't increase with volume, and the product loses money without the subsidy, then they have no reason to make more.
as America still holds the trump card when it comes to electronic design automation (EDA) tools, the key software needed for chip design
Software can be reverse-engineered. Or simply used without license. Yes, US companies would complain, but why would China care if the US complains about chips that are both manufactured and sold inside China?
IP is worthless without some way to enforce it.
Had Mr Trump won a second term and nvidia acquired ARM, China had serious concerns.
Neither of those things happened but they saw what the USA did to shut Huawei and ZTE out of international markets due to sanctions.
It is really possible to simply ignore all the licensing exactly like the US have done when she was fighting British dominance.