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Launched in 2018, Alibaba’s chip subsidiary, Pingtouge made a major announcement yesterday. Pingtouge is launching its first product – chip processor XuanTie 910 using the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture.

The XuanTie 910 processor is expected to reduce the costs of related chip production by more than 50%, reports Caixin Global. XuanTie 910, also known as T-Head, will soon be available in the market for commercial use. Pingtouge will also be releasing some of XuanTie 910’s codes on Github for free to help the global developer community to create innovative applications. No release dates have been revealed yet.

What are the properties of the XuanTie 910 processor?

The XuanTie 910 16-core processor has 7.1 Coremark/MHz and its main frequency can achieve 2.5GHz. This processor can be used to manufacture high-end edge-based microcontrollers (MCUs), CPUs, and systems-on-chip (SOC).

It can be used in applications like 5G telecommunication, artificial intelligence (AI), and autonomous driving. XuanTie 910 processor gives 40% increased performance over the mainstream RISC-V instructions and also a 20% increase in terms of instructions.

According to Synced, Xuantie 910 has two unconventional properties:

  • It has a 2-stage pipelined out-of-order triple issue processor with two memory accesses per cycle.
  • The processors computing, storage and multi-core capabilities are superior due to an increased extension of instructions. Xuantie 910 can extend more than 50 instructions than RISC-V.

Last month, The Verge reported that an internal ARM memo has instructed its staff to stop working with Huawei. With the US blacklisting China’s telecom giant Huawei, and also banning any American company from doing business with them, it seems that ARM is also following the American strategy. Although ARM is based in U.K. and is owned by the Japanese SoftBank group, it does have an “US origin technology”, as claimed in the internal memo.

This may be one of the reasons why Alibaba is increasing its efforts in developing RISC-V, so that Chinese tech companies can become independent from Western technologies. A Xuantie 910 processor can assure Chinese companies of a stable future, with no fear of it being banned by Western governments. Other than being cost-effective, RISC-V also has other advantages like more flexibility compared to ARM. With complex licence policies and high power prospect, it is going to be a challenge for ARM to compete against RISC-V and MIPS (Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages) processors.

A Hacker News user comments, “I feel like we (USA) are forcing China on a path that will make them more competitive long term.”

Another user says, “China is going to be key here. It’s not just a normal market – China may see this as essential to its ability to develop its technology. It’s Made in China 2025 policy. That’s taken on new urgency as the west has started cutting China off from western tech – so it may be normal companies wanting some insurance in case intel / arm cut them off (trade disputes etc) AND the govt itself wanting to product its industrial base from cutoff during trade disputes”

Some users also feel that it is technology that wins when two big economies continue bringing up innovative technologies.

A comment on Hacker News reads, “Good to see development from any country. Obviously they have enough reason to do it. Just consider sanctions. They also have to protect their own market. Anyone that can afford it, should do it. Ultimately it is a good thing from technology perspective.”

Not all US tech companies are wary of partnering with Chinese counterparts. Two days ago, Salesforce, an American cloud-based software company announced a strategic partnership with Alibaba. This aims to help Salesforce localize their products in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. This will enable Salesforce customers to market, sell, and operate through services like Alibaba Cloud and Tmall.

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