More than 200 researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) are working on a x86-compatible processor called Godson-3. The government-funded chip has been under development since 2001 and is expected to be released next year.
A 65nm quad-core Godson-3 chip will arrive first, but the team is also preparing a eight-core version. ICT deputy director Zwhwei Xu explains Godson-3 will offer x86 compatibility through simulation, this means they don't need a x86 license from Intel but will make their chip slower. Intel patent attorney Erik Metzger claims such a chip will only perform at about 80 percent of the speed of an actual x86 chip and believes the upcoming Chinese processor might be a rival to the Intel Atom processor.
The latest Godson chips will also have a number of advanced features. Godson-3, a chip with four cores--processing units that work in parallel--will appear in 2009, according to Xu, and an eight-core version is also under development. Both versions will be built using 65-nanometer lithography processes, which are a generation older than Intel's current 45-nanometer processes. Importantly, Godson-3 is scalable, meaning that more cores can be added to future generations without significant redesign. Additionally, the architecture allows engineers to precisely control the amount of power that it uses. For instance, parts of the chip can be shut down when they aren't in use, and cores can operate at various frequencies, depending on the tasks that they need to perform. The four-core Godson-3 will consume 10 watts of power, and the eight-core chip will consume 20 watts, says Xu.
This latest chip will also be fundamentally different from those made before. Neither Godson-1 nor -2 is compatible with Intel's so-called x86 architecture, meaning that most commercial software will not run on them. But engineers have added 200 additional instructions to Godson-3 to simulate an x86 chip, which allows Godson-3 to run more software, including the Windows operating system. And because the chip architecture is only simulated, there is no need to obtain a license from Intel.