A top Chinese computer scientist said China is better positioned than Russia to handle possible sanctions against chip design architecture from Western countries, adding that the country could develop another ecosystem based on the RISC-V architecture and expand it among members of Belt and road initiative.
Bao Yungang, a computer technology expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and general secretary of the China RISC-V Alliance, commented on the Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu in response to inquiries as to whether China will face “supply disruptions” in the event of technological decoupling from the United States.
Bao said China could do much better than Russia in extreme scenarios involving sanctions and war because of its capabilities in research into central processing unit (CPU), significant talent base and large market.
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“In extreme cases, RISC-V-related standard specifications can be divided into RISC-X, and China is fully capable of promoting the development of the RISC-X standard independently and building an ecosystem with belt and road countries,” he said. Bao.
Chinese Academy of Sciences expert Bao Yungang. Photo: Handout alt = the expert from the Chinese Academy of Sciences Bao Yungang. Photo: Handout>
“China’s RISC-X products may not be able to enter the United States and other Western countries – like Huawei products today, but this does not affect sales and use of these products in belt and road countries,” he added. “RISC-X can still be maintained as an open source so that developing countries with 6.6 billion people can develop a [independent] ecosystem. “
Bao did not respond to requests for comment.
As U.S. sanctions against China’s semiconductor industry have increased over the past few years, open source RISC-V chip architecture has been touted as a possible alternative to Intel’s proprietary x86 architecture and the UK-based Arm architecture used by almost everyone. mobile chip designers, including Qualcomm and Apple. As the RISC-V source code is publicly available online, it is not subject to export control and has no licensing fees.
The principles of reduced instruction set computer (RISC) were first developed at the University of California, Berkeley by Professor David Patterson in 1980 and were made open source in the fifth generation of technology in 2015 as RISC-V. Standards are now maintained and published by the Swiss non-profit organization RISC-V International.
Of the organization’s 20 “premier members”, half are Chinese, among others Huawei Technologies Co – which is currently sanctioned by the United States – and Alibaba Cloud, a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holdingowner of South China Morning Post.
At the same time, there is growing concern in China that they may not be able to fully rely on open source technologies originating from or maintained by Western companies, even though such a code is typically not subject to sanctions.
While China has sought to reduce its reliance on foreign chip manufacturing technologies, the country is still lagging behind its global peers in both chip design and manufacturing.
In particular, China’s weakness in electronic design automation software (EDA) could leave the country vulnerable to sanctions, even in the midst of a major RISC-V adoption, according to industry experts. The United States has a significant lead in EDA software, which is critical to chip design and manufacturing technologies.
“You need other things to make a device – wafers, photoresist, gases, etc.,” said Woz Ahmed, CEO of Chilli Ventures and former head of strategy at UK graphics processor Imagination Technologies. “Not everything is in place yet, or not in sufficient scale and quality in China’s domestic supply chain.”
Huawei’s chip design unit HiSilicon illustrates this challenge. It still has access to Arms V8 architecture, but it cannot find foundries willing to manufacture its Arm-based chips. US sanctions ban companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC)the world’s largest contract chip maker, and Shanghai-based Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) from making such chips for Huawei using technologies of American origin.
This article originally appeared in South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice that has reported on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore SCMP app or visit the SCMPs Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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