Top Engineer Gives Vision for Chinese Chips

China will push low-energy models of its homegrown Godson microprocessor for PCs and mobile devices as it aims to expand use of the chips, though the global recession has hurt their deployment, the head engineer for the project said Wednesday.

Godson's government-backed development team will aim to cut the chips' energy costs rather than boosting their power and will eventually offer a chipset based on a 1 GHz to 2GHz processor for less than $20, said Hu Weiwu of China's Institute of Computing Technology in an interview.

Such a chipset would be half the cost of similar products from Intel and AMD and would serve China's national goal of spreading technology that it controls, he said.

"We should not continue to follow Intel's road of always pushing up, pushing and upgrading," he said. "I think a 2GHz Pentium 4 is already enough for most office and other purposes."

Godson will not compete with Intel and AMD for the x86 market since its chips have a MIPS core that does not support Windows. Its creators see the chip as an alternative that could be widely marketed on systems running Linux.

Hu hopes Godson or other China-developed CPUs will power as many as half of the products sold in the country by 2020 and crack the markets in other developing countries as well.

Those goals are ambitious. The market opportunity that exists for new chip designers in China could be seized by any Chinese firm as easily as by Godson, said Oliver Xu, an analyst at Gartner.

The Godson project would also be hard pressed to keep up with advances in rivals' technology, he said.

"Many aspects of it have been exaggerated," Xu said.

China has split work on Godson into low-end and high-end lines since launching its development in 2001. Its newest low-end chip, the Godson 2f, is being used by Chinese firms in netbooks, firewall appliances and industrial control units, but the products have not taken off. A specialty Godson store that opened this year in Beijing's technology district has a barren selection consisting mainly of a handful of netbooks running Linux on the Godson 2f.

The successor to the 2f, the 1 GHz Godson 2g, will be released late this year, Hu said. Godson chips are also known by the name Loongson.

Design is also complete on the four-core Godson 3, the first in the high-end line of chips for servers and high-throughput computing. Late next year China hopes to use an eight-core version of the chip to build a supercomputer capable of operating at one petaflop per second, a level reached by only the fastest machines in the world.

Design on a 16-core model of the Godson 3 could then be finished by 2011 and produced using the 45-nanometer or 32-nanometer manufacturing process, Hu said.

Even if those targets are met, the Godson will lag behind global chip-making standards. Intel and AMD already plan to launch chips manufactured using the 32-nanometer process this year.

Hu says Godson has full government backing. While the economic downturn has slowed business for firms that use Godson chips in their products, Beijing will provide whatever funding is needed for Godson's success, Hu said.

That includes creating policies that "provide a market" for products, Hu said. Last month the government of coastal Jiangsu province purchased 150,000 Godson-based computers for use in schools.

But government support isn't enough to get Godson chips used commercially, said Xu, the analyst.

Both the government and Hu's academic institute lack the business sense needed to popularize a product, said Xu.

"Even if the government makes purchases or supports the market, Godson's market share will not be able to grow much," he said.

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