The big picture: Huawei could come up with an ARM-based desktop CPU before Apple does, as the company is readying a desktop PC for China's 3-5-2 plan to replace foreign hardware from its public infrastructure by 2022. And when it does, this CPU could be faster in some scenarios than Intel's Core i9-9900K, marking an important milestone on China's road to technological self-sufficiency.
Huawei has been gradually losing its silicon partners as a result of US sanctions. Next month, the Chinese tech giant will lose access to TSMC's foundry, leaving it without its biggest supplier of chips for its vast portfolio of products.
The company has built a stockpile of chips that should last it through the end of 2021, and a new leak (spotted by Gizchina) on Weibo reveals that Huawei is preparing to launch an ARM-based CPU for desktop systems later this year.
Back in January 2019, Huawei announced the Kunpeng 920 CPU family for servers, which is now being adapted for use in desktop platforms. These are based on the TaiShan v110 microarchitecture and come with up to 64 ARM v8.2 cores running at up to 3.0 GHz (2.6 GHz base clock), built on a 7 nm process node.
Huawei's desktop PC is known internally as Pangu, and will come equipped with up to a 24-core Kunpeng 920 3211K, which is a 60 mm x 75 mm BGA package soldered onto the motherboard. There's support for up to 64 GB of DDR4 RAM running at 3200 MHz, and you have three PCIe 3.0 slots for expansion (one x16 port, one x4, and one x1 port). For storage, there are two M.2 slots and six SATA 3.0 ports.
Someone managed to get their hands on a base model, which comes with the eight-core Kunpeng 920 2249K CPU paired with 16 GB of RAM, a 256 GB DTST SSD, and a Yeston RX 550 graphics card. It runs the Unified Operating System (UOS), which is a Linux distribution based on Deepin and developed by Tongxin Software as a replacement for Windows in China.
All of it is powered by a 200-watt power supply, but that's not the most surprising part of the report. Apparently, the Kunpeng 920 can surpass Intel's Core i9-9900K in terms of multi-core performance. There's no mention of single-core performance, which could mean that Huawei's CPU isn't particularly good in that department.
The eight-core Kunpeng 920 2249K is able to finish the Blender BMW test in 11 minutes and 47 seconds, as opposed to 16 minutes and 45 seconds for the Core i9-9900K. Even so, the range of software that can run on UOS is very limited, and there's no emulation layer for popular x86 software.
Overall, the Kunpeng 920 is much better than Zhaoxin's x86 chips, which are lagging behind Intel offerings in every aspect. China is planning to replace all hardware and software in its public institutions by 2022, and Huawei's chips look like the better option. The company could tap into a local foundry like SMIC, which could begin 7 nm production later this year.