China's chips to power blade servers this year

Blade servers based on microprocessors designed in China will power a supercomputer prototype to be revealed by a government-backed Chinese firm in September, the company said Tuesday.

The blade servers, the first running on China's Godson chips, will later power the country's first petaflop-class supercomputer slated for completion late next year, said a spokesman for the firm, Dawning. A petaflop computer is capable of performing one million billion "flops," or floating point operations per second.

The computer unveiled this year will be suited for use in scientific research and arms development, the spokesman said. Dawning will design Godson servers for other markets if it sees demand for them, he said.

But demand may be low. China has funded work on the Godson line of chips since 2001 to create a low-cost alternative to CPUs controlled by foreign firms. Godson chips power products from firewall appliances to off-brand laptops running Linux, but sales have never taken off. The chips have a MIPS core that is incompatible with the x86 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices that are used in most PCs. Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office productivity suite run on x86 processors, not MIPS ones.

Godson's creators still hope the chips will gain a commercial presence in coming years. The chips are also known by the name Loongson.

The chip powering China's petaflop computer will be the Godson 3b, an eight-core chip produced using a 65-nanometer process. The first version will have a clock speed of 1GHz, while later versions will have clock speeds above 1.5 GHz, , according to Hu Weiwu, head engineer for the Godson project.

A Dawning computer capable of operating at one petaflop would rank among the fastest in the world, although building it with the Godson could be a challenge. Dawning produced a supercomputer that ranked tenth in last November's Top500 list of the world's fastest machines. That computer, based on Barcelona chips from AMD, will be installed at the Shanghai Supercomputing Center by next month, after a delay from its original delivery date last year.

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