China took a major step forward in its goal to be technology independent, as the Alibaba Group unveiled its first self-developed chip processor on August 1st. The unveiling of the new XuanTie 910 processor was heralded by Chinese media as an important move for China to reduce reliance on overseas suppliers and achieve self-sufficiency in the semiconductor industry.
The new XuanTie 910 processor was developed by Pingtouge, a subsidiary of Alibaba, and is based on an open-source architecture called RISC-V, a globally recognized open-source standard, as opposed to the more commercially used ARM architecture.
Chinese companies have been using ARM processors, which are subject to US technology bans like the one imposed on Huawei Technologies in May by the U.S. government. Because RISC-V is a internationally recognised open-source standard, it is not affected by trade restrictions, which will allow Chinese technology companies to use the architecture without having to obtain commercial licensees from U.S. technology companies.
At the heart of computer processors is an open source hardware Instruction Set Architecture (ISA). The RISC-V open source ISA are backed by many of the leading technology companies across the world including Alibaba, Google, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Western Digital.
In announcing its new XuanTie 910 processor, Alibaba said, “This new RISC-V processor is designed to serve a lot more heavy-duty IoT applications that require high-performance computing, such as AI, networking, gateway, self-driving automobile and edge servers. We believe the new processor would also help drive the growth of the RISC-V open-source community in Asia and globally.”
The XuanTie 910 processor – Photo courtesy of Pingtouge
According to a Pingtouge spokesman, “The XuanTie 910 is currently the most high-performance RISC-V processor on the market and its increased processing power can help reduce the cost of chip production by more than 50%.”
Because of the U.S. government trade actions against China, and Chinese technology companies such as Huawei being blacklisted by the U.S. government, multiple Chinese business and government officials believe that China should reduce reliance on Western technology and become technology self-sufficient.
China imported $300 billions USD of chips in 2018 and rather than assisting and encouraging China to buy more, the policies of the Trump administration are pushing China away. By 2020 China expects that it will reach self-sufficiency of 15% and the country wants to achieve a 100% self-sufficiency ratio by 2025.
Alibaba is now one of several Chinese companies, including Horizon Robotics, Huawei and Semiconductor Manufacturing International that are developing their own AI computer chips.