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Supercomputing Hardware

China Switching To Home-Grown Chips For Supercomputers 198

Posted by timothy
from the extreme-dogfooding dept.
rubycodez writes "The Tianhe-1A system will be the last Chinese supercomputer to use imported Intel and AMD processors. By years end, China's own 64 bit MIPS-compatible 65nm 8-core 1GHz version of the Godsen (Longsoon family) processors will be used, including 10,000 of them for the 'Dawning 6000' supercomputer. Yes, the chips can and usually do run GNU/Linux, but also can run FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD."
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China Switching To Home-Grown Chips For Supercomputers

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  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @09:51AM (#35463354) Journal

    and anyone want to fill me in why 10,000 8-core MIPS chips at 1ghz can be expected to outperform 12,000 12-core x86 chips at 2.1ghz?

    I missed that claim in TFA. There are very good reasons for wanting to use their own chips though. They have a lower power envelope (around 20W for the quad-core version), but more importantly they are helping to ramp up the economies of scale for the production. 10,000 is about the smallest run you can do for a CPU and it be cost effective. A single order of that size makes the per-unit cost low enough that it becomes attractive for other companies (or projects within China), which helps fund future development, rather than sending the R&D money overseas to the USA / Israel.

    It's worth noting that these chips are now produced with all of the relevant patents licensed from MIPS Technologies, so they can legally be sold in the USA.

  • Re:Domination (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smallfries (601545) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @10:11AM (#35463468) Homepage

    Taking a snapshot of where the Longsoon is now and comparing against where AMD and Intel are now is flawed. The processor business chases moving targets, rather than comparing single samples you need to look at a longer history to try to estimate the rate of change.

    Intel started 30 years ago. The Longsoon project started 9 years ago. In that time they have closed the gap on Intel to about 3 years. This 65nm design is comparable with something from about 2007 (the clock speed is lower but having 8 cores helps a lot). The real question is where they will go next.

    If they meet their stated plan they are going to skip the 45nm node and make the Longsoon 3B on a 28nm process. They are aiming at a higher clockspeed, more cores and a large integrated vector co-processor that would rival Fusion or Larabee. If they can do what they claim then they are in the process of overtaking Intel and AMD now and we will see the effects on the world processor market over the next five years.

    Whether or not they can do this is a big question, and according to the stories in the press it caused quite a debate at HotChips when they announced these plans. It's not clear who will be licensing them a 28nm fab, or quite how they've packed that much into a design. It's not clear how AMD and Intel will respond to a new competitor with state backed funding and a huge protected market.

    The next five years will be interesting times...

  • Re:Domination (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LordNimon (85072) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @10:22AM (#35463526)
    Taking a snapshot of where the Longsoon is now and comparing against where AMD and Intel are now is flawed. The processor business chases moving targets, rather than comparing single samples you need to look at a longer history to try to estimate the rate of change.

    I'm sorry, but it's ridiculous to think that because Longsoon starts today at 1GHz, that they will be able to accelerate faster than Intel and eventually overtake them. The rate of change has got nothing to do with the starting point. A 1GHz MIPS core is easy to make by today's standards, so it just doesn't mean anything.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @10:56AM (#35463748) Homepage Journal

    Yes, it's amazing how fast the chinese can reverse engineer old technology! Good thing there are strong copy-protection laws in force to prevent this sort of thing.

    All snark aside, this does point out something very important; The Chinese can never surpass the performance of the people they're copying. On the other hand, they can price them right out of the market. The down side (for the entrenched powers) with the world going multicore is that you can solve problems by just throwing more cores at them. Granted, there are plenty of problems which can't be solved in this way, but even a really crappy CPU core of today is shockingly impressive by Ye Olde Tyme standards. When I think about the difference between my old Sun 4/260 and the cute little netbook on my lap with the 1.2 GHz 64 bit processor and the 2GB of ram, which is a kiddie class machine by modern standards, it makes my mouth a little dry.

  • Re:Domination (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @11:10AM (#35463828) Homepage

    We do the hard work of inventing a lot of things, the hard work of refining the processes. And then other countries and peoples learn from our mistakes and do "better" than we did at it.

    And all of mankind benefits. Too bad so many people are stuck in the "us and them" mindset.

  • Re:Domination (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Saturday March 12, 2011 @11:21AM (#35463896) Homepage

    Yes, because the chinese are stupid and they don't have any engineers.

    What the hell are you people on? Can't you see the clear patterns? China began exactly like every other nation: first they copy, then the invent, then they lead. Compare with Japan. In the 60ies, you spoke of "cheap japanese copies". Then they took over, now you have Toyota and Sony.

    Do you really really believe that a 5000 year old civilization with nearly 1.5 billion people, the highest average IQ in the world and lead by engineers, won't figure out how to design a CPU? What will it take for you to wake up?

  • Re:Domination (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hey! (33014) on Saturday March 12, 2011 @12:26PM (#35464324) Homepage Journal

    Your reasoning is impeccable, but I can't begin to count the number of times market forces, amortizing massive investments over huge economies of scale, have trumped common sense.

    What's interesting here is how differently China plays this game. They're focused on long-term national prestige and influence, so they can tolerate being a few years behind by specifying the use of domestic products. That ensures the cash flow their enterprises need to catch up. That would. be unthinkable in the US, with the. exception of a few companies like Boeing, and. even then it's ideologically incorrect to be up front. about helping the chosen enterprise. The standard position is that the competitor kettle is blackened by government favoritism.

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