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nVidia frightened Chinese chips could take over by 2017

To the uninitiated, seeing people talk seriously about Chinese chips might make you think the speaker has gone prawn crackers, but there is a threat and the threat is real. nVidia spends time and resource worrying about this – so maybe you should too. KitGuru dives into the noodle soup to see what’s what.

Roll the clock back just 10 years and, somewhere inside China’s massive bureaucracy, a decision was made to no longer rely on Western companies designing the core technology on which China’s future would be built.

A project was kicked off at the Institute of Computing Technology under the watchful eye of Professor Hu Weiwu.

“Professor Hu?”, we hear you ask – and the answer is “Yes – you cheeky sod”.

The first chip was a 266MHz, 32-bit processor fabricated on a ‘nice and chunky’ 0.18 micron process. In modern parlance, that’s 180 nanometres. China had kicked off its first salvo into the CPU market with a very basic chip that was aimed purely at products like the tills you find in shops.

Intel, you might remember, was pushing out 3.06GHz Pentium 4 chips and AMD was ruling the processor performance roost with its Athlon 64 FX range about to hit the market.

Roll the clock forward 10 years and we have a very interesting quote from nVidia’s Chief Scientist, Bill Dally, circulating the web. He has been quoted as saying that China’s efforts at making a processor were “Laughable”, but that the rate of development and licensing was “Frightening” to the point where nVidia is predicting that China will be matching the West very soon and pulling ahead by 2017.

In a double thumbs up with big grin “You like?” moment, China’s CPU programme (Godson/Loongson) has decided that X86 and Windows should not really form any part of its future – so the main thrust is on Linux. That’s not to say that other operating systems cannot be ported to the Chinese processor – just that it is more ‘for show’ then a serious push.

nVidia's Chief Scientist, Bill Dally, may well be smiling at Chinese chips in 2012 - but what about 2017?

KitGuru says: As we type, the Chinese chip folks have managed to pass the 1GHz barrier, delivered a working 8 core design and in x86 emulation mode, only loses around 30% of its performance capability. Maybe nVidia is right to be frightened by these developments, but can it (and AMD/Intel) turn the Chinese chip business into some kind of partnership – or will this all result in direct ‘shots across the border’ conflict?

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