Alibaba and Tencent pledge to help China build RISC-V chips • The Register

China is reportedly leaning on domestic tech giants Alibaba and Tencent for the development of RISC-V chips to insulate itself from the impact of the United States’ growing silicon sanctions.

That’s according to a Wednesday report by the Financial Times, which said China had “recruited” the two companies. That word has quite a connotation given the country’s “military-civilian fusion” doctrine, which requires private companies to share their technology and any software vulnerabilities with China’s military.

According to the report, Alibaba and Tencent are part of a new consortium of companies and research institutes set up by the Chinese government that aims to create new intellectual property for chips based on the open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA). . This means China is trying to invent core designs and other silicon building blocks that will serve as the basis for future chips.

China views RISC-V as a safer alternative to the proprietary arm ISA amid fears the latter will face future US sanctions. After all, Arm is British but has a large American presence, and its owner, SoftBank, hopes to list Arm on a US stock exchange next year.

The FT also said the consortium, dubbed Beijing Open Source Chip Research Institute, has already developed a high-performance RISC-V chip called Xiangshan. The newspaper said the chip is meant to compete with Arm technology, but didn’t specify which core design is in Arm’s portfolio.

Alibaba and Tencent have already launched their own Arm-based chips, but both companies appear to have concerns about Arm’s future in China.

The newspaper reported that Alibaba and China’s ByteDance, which owns TikTok, already had plans to develop RISC-V chips for AI and data center applications. This goes beyond what we previously knew about Alibaba’s RISC-V plans, which were primarily limited to edge and IoT appliances.

A senior engineer at T-Head, Alibaba’s chips division, told the newspaper the company’s goal is to replace its Arm chips “in our most advanced products.” The FT also quoted a Tencent engineer as calling Arm “too risky now.”

While a Chinese official called the consortium’s RISC-V effort “on track,” the official added that the ISA’s fragmentation issues have slowed efforts to replace Arm designs.

China’s establishment of the Beijing Open Source Chip Research Institute is the country’s latest move to use RISC-V as a way to evade US-led sanctions. China has been heavily involved in the development of RISC-V in recent years through RISC-V International, the governing body of the ISA, which moved its headquarters from the US to Switzerland in 2020 due to geopolitical concerns. ® Alibaba and Tencent pledge to help China build RISC-V chips • The Register

Rick Schindler

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