RealTime IT News

Made in China: The Godson Processor

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The 20th annual HOT CHIPS conference at Stanford University is an academic show, not a vendor-driven one. That means the biggest guns share the stage with the littlest pistols; and it gives the little guys a chance to shine.

In this case, a Chinese processor project found itself sandwiched between presentations from AMD and Intel, with its own unique story to tell.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences is a nationally-funded institution with five main areas of focus, one of which is technology. Within that area is the Institute for Computing Technology, which designed the Godson processor, a project that began in 2001.

China decided to support microprocessors because it has come to realize CPU design is important and one of national strategic importance, said Zhiwei Xu, chief technology officer and a professor at the institute during his speech here.

Now on its third generation of Godson, the ICT has managed to triple performance with each generation, although he admitted it still has a long way to go to close the gap with giants like Intel (NASDAQ: INTC), AMD (NYSE: AMD) and IBM (NYSE: IBM), but added "we are doing our best to join the international community."

Godson-2 and 3 are scalable 64-bit single core processors built on 90 nanometer design. They are instruction-compatible with the MIPS III processor architecture, and Xu said the company has a license from MIPS for such compatibility. The operating system of choice for Godson-powered computers, said Xu, is Linux.

The current Godson-2 generation, E and F, are both 1Ghz processors, consuming from 3 to 7 watts of power. Godson-2E has an on-chip DDR controller while Godson-2F has an on-chip DDR2 controller. A Godson-2G and –2H are also planned for computers as well as System on a Chip (SoC) designs.

Xu then introduced the Godson-3 design, which will be a four-core, 1.0Ghz chip on a 65nm process design and consume just 10 watts of power. The core will be reconfigurable into one of two purposes and it will have on-the-fly x86 binary translation, which Xu said would be ten times as fast as software-only emulation.

The x86 compatibility still needs work. The goal is to reach 80 percent of the native MIPS performance. Currently, it's between 48 and 58 percent, according to Xu.

Godson-3 can be reconfigured into one of two designs: general purpose core, and multipurpose core. The general purpose core is just as the name implies, and does more x86 emulation, media acceleration, and general processing. The multipurpose core is for LINPACK programming, a Fortran-style of processing, biological and digital signal processing.

Godson-3 will use a crossbar and mesh interconnect to support rapid communication between the cores. Xu said the processor would be capable of 16 gigaflops at 1Ghz, which is a pretty good showing at that speed. It would put it at a comparable performance range to Intel's mass market quad core processors.

In 2009, ICT hope to introduce an eight-core processor that is essentially a multi-chip module like Intel's quad core Xeons, which are two dual core processors on one die. It will also be a combination of general purpose and multipurpose cores, rather than all of one style like the four core chip.

This will bump the power draw to 20 watts, still far lower than any other eight-core processor. The ultimate goal, said Xu, is to build a petaflop computer running Godson-3 by 2010.