It might be hard to imagine, but in the 1990s, there were a bunch of computer chip makers. Apart from Intel and AMD, there was also Cyrix and VIA, to name a few. While Cyrix and VIA still exist, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Now, China is looking to break into the computer processor business. China’s own x86 processor journey won’t come easy though. It’s a tough, tough gig. But AMD has licensed its EPYC processors for manufacture to a Chinese company. Is this the beginning of the end of the Intel/AMD duopoly?
Many western companies have been investing in China through the joint-venture model. Indeed, ask any car company (Ford, GM, Volkswagen group) and they’ll point to the success of their joint ventures. However, it’s also a shortcut for Chinese industries to learn and get their people up to speed. The Chinese want to compete on the global stage too, notwithstanding its enormous domestic market.
China’s own x86 AMD processors comes on the back of a joint venture deal between AMD, which licensed its current server CPU architecture, and Chengdu Haiguang IC Design Company, or Hygon, to make the chips themselves. The new (or current) processor family has been dubbed “Dhyana” (or meditation and contemplation in Buddhism) are basically clones of EPYC server CPUs. Linux developers have had to do very little if anything to ensure support for them.
Dhyana is being built solely for the Chinese domestic market. This is largely a response to the revelations that American CPUs have potential backdoors introduced by the NSA. It seems logical that China’s businesses, many of which are state owned, would want assurances of total security. It wouldn’t be good to have American spy agencies accessing all your stuff now, would it? Oh, wait…
China’s own x86 processor manufacturing comes off the back of other licensing deals. IBM’s Power8 architecture is also licensed for manufacturing by Suzhou PowerCore Technology Company, and VIA’s also licensed their technology previously. As China’s industries get more and more sophisticated, the demand will be there for more indigenous intellectual property development, control of manufacture and supply to ensure nominal function of government and business. Whether this will lead to Intel, AMD, PowerPC and the like losing their current supremacy, we can watch the car industry and see how that turns out.