Tencent launches three custom Arm-based chips, signaling expansion beyond video games...

nanoguy

Posts: 1,049   +15
Staff member
The big picture: With so much news about the chip shortage and Arm-based processors that are slowly eating the digital world, it's easy to miss that China's tech giants have been making progress with custom silicon for the data center. Companies like Tencent and Alibaba are slowly replacing foreign chips with homegrown solutions they claim are faster and most efficient, and this process is expected to accelerate in the coming years.

A lot of attention has been directed towards the ongoing chip shortage, Nvidia’s $54 billion takeover of Arm, and Apple’s transition to custom Arm-based silicon that’s both powerful and more energy-efficient than competing solutions from the x86 space. Meanwhile, Chinese tech giants like Tencent and Alibaba have been working on custom Arm-based silicon of their own and almost no one has noticed their efforts.

Today, Tencent launched three self-designed chips that it says will help boost China’s semiconductor efforts. At the same time, the move signals the company’s expansion beyond things like video games, social media (WeChat), and mobile payments services.

One of the chips, dubbed Zixiao, is an accelerator for machine learning tasks such as processing images, video, and natural language. The second is a video transcoding chip called Canghai, and the last is a network interface controller chip named Xuanling.

Dowson Tong Taosang, the president of Tencent’s cloud and smart industries group, said “chips are the key component of hardware and the core infrastructure of the industrial Internet.” Tencent has a long-term vision of what it wants to accomplish with custom silicon, but it wouldn’t say which foundry made its chips or what it plans to develop next.

The news comes weeks after its local rival, Alibaba, launched a custom Arm-based processor called Yitian 710. The new CPU will be used in the company’s Panjiu servers and won’t be sold commercially. Since the new chip is based on 5nm process technology, that leaves only two guesses as to which foundry makes them: Samsung or TSMC.

Tencent and Alibaba are the biggest players on China’s cloud infrastructure services market, with a combined market share of 52.6 percent as of writing. Their efforts are driven by China’s plan to achieve technological self-sufficiency by 2025 and gradually replace foreign technology used across its public infrastructure with homegrown solutions.

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psycros

Posts: 3,826   +4,982
You know what I keep wondering? Why isn't someone making multi-CPU ARM motherboards? Maybe they already are for rack systems but it seems like the desktop market could benefit as well. Its a logical step towards more power-efficient and scalable computing. Linux nerds would probably LOVE it and I imagine the Windows world wouldn't be too far behind (and we already have "Windows 10 lite" built for ARM). With things as crazy as they are right now I wouldn't be super-shocked if five years hence it was all about Linux on ARM with Intel graphics.
 

merikafyeah

Posts: 268   +219
You know what I keep wondering? Why isn't someone making multi-CPU ARM motherboards? Maybe they already are for rack systems but it seems like the desktop market could benefit as well. Its a logical step towards more power-efficient and scalable computing. Linux nerds would probably LOVE it and I imagine the Windows world wouldn't be too far behind (and we already have "Windows 10 lite" built for ARM). With things as crazy as they are right now I wouldn't be super-shocked if five years hence it was all about Linux on ARM with Intel graphics.
The software just isn't there. Like Windows, the majority of Linux desktop programs are also x86. Maybe there could be a hardware-assisted x86-emulation function like Apple does with the M1 SoCs but I wouldn't hold my breath. There isn't any demand for a desktop Chromebook (Chromedesk?) especially since there are already docks to connect Android phones and tablets to monitors and keyboards.

Nvidia and AMD's desktop GPUs are also all x86. It is basically impossible for either Nvidia or AMD to willingly divert resources towards developing a desktop driver framework for ARM-based Linux which would have an even smaller user base than even x86 desktop Linux. Windows RT or other incarnations of Windows on ARM will never take off. Just look at the nearly-10-years-old Windows Store. No one wants it. Yet again Microsoft is trying desperately to "revamp" the Store for the umpteenth time to attract more users but it ain't happening because Micro$oft is the corporate leader in tone-deafness. At this point they're just doing everything they can to bail water out of a sinking ship. Hundreds or thousands of custom ARM GPUs for a cluster computer or datacenter? Sure. Desktop ARM GPUs? That's a non-starter.

Lastly there is an extremely common misconception in the technosphere that ARM is just inherently more efficient than x86 per given power target, but this is simply not the case:
https://chipsandcheese.com/2021/07/13/arm-or-x86-isa-doesnt-matter/
 

GregonMaui

Posts: 300   +113
The software just isn't there. Like Windows, the majority of Linux desktop programs are also x86. Maybe there could be a hardware-assisted x86-emulation function like Apple does with the M1 SoCs but I wouldn't hold my breath. There isn't any demand for a desktop Chromebook (Chromedesk?) especially since there are already docks to connect Android phones and tablets to monitors and keyboards.

Nvidia and AMD's desktop GPUs are also all x86. It is basically impossible for either Nvidia or AMD to willingly divert resources towards developing a desktop driver framework for ARM-based Linux which would have an even smaller user base than even x86 desktop Linux. Windows RT or other incarnations of Windows on ARM will never take off. Just look at the nearly-10-years-old Windows Store. No one wants it. Yet again Microsoft is trying desperately to "revamp" the Store for the umpteenth time to attract more users but it ain't happening because Micro$oft is the corporate leader in tone-deafness. At this point they're just doing everything they can to bail water out of a sinking ship. Hundreds or thousands of custom ARM GPUs for a cluster computer or datacenter? Sure. Desktop ARM GPUs? That's a non-starter.

Lastly there is an extremely common misconception in the technosphere that ARM is just inherently more efficient than x86 per given power target, but this is simply not the case:
https://chipsandcheese.com/2021/07/13/arm-or-x86-isa-doesnt-matter/
I read your link and acknowledge that I am not qualified to begin to critique it. But if I gather correctly, it is the implementation by companies Like Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung that are making processing power per watt leaps over the likes of Intel and AMD that is driving the cool operation, long battery life and stellar performance of modern ARM? Way go to go, keep it up. I would also add that x86 with all its bloat is more complex to fabricate which is slowing its development immensely. Perhaps that is why Intel and AMD are going more hybrid routes?