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Russian government telegraphs move to ARM

Russian government telegraphs move to ARM

Local news sources claim that the Russian government is to invest in the production of a locally-designed processor, an eight-core 64-bit ARM chip dubbed Baikal, to reduce reliance on foreign enterprises.

The Russian Ministry of Industry is claimed to be investigating the creation of a homebrew processor based on the ARM architecture, as a replacement for foreign-produced x86 chips from Intel and AMD.

According to a report by local news outlet Kommersant Moscow, the Russian government plans to produce a family of processors dubbed Baikal and featuring a 28nm implementation of Cambridge-based ARM's Cortex-A57 64-bit intellectual property. These chips, it is claimed, will feature at least eight physical processing cores running at 2GHz, and will be produced by a specialised subsidiary of supercomputing company T-Platforms. Systems based around the chips would run a variant of the open-source GNU/Linux operating system tailored for the local market, it is claimed.

While the dominating architecture in mobile computing, ARM has made little impact elsewhere since the Acorn RiscPC desktop computer family dropped off the market. This is changing, however: 64-bit architecture designs provide ARM platforms with access to more resources than ever before, with major companies seriously investigating the low-power chips as replacements for x86 in data centre applications. Even AMD is getting in on the act, promising motherboards that can be populated with ARM or x86 processors under the codename Project Skybridge.

For the Russian Ministry of Industry, the focus is likely to be less on improving performance-per-watt and more on reducing its reliance on foreign companies. Neither AMD nor Intel allow their customers to license the design of their respective processors, instead forcing them to buy off-the-shelf - or, more recently, semi-customised - chips produced elsewhere. ARM, however, produces no physical products at all, instead licensing its intellectual property to third party companies like Samsung, Qualcomm and Apple for customisation and production. By moving to the IP licensing model, the Russian government will be able to keep the bulk of the money spent on processors within its borders with only a small licensing fee making its way to Cambridge.

Kommersant claims that the Russian government spends around $800 million a year on server hardware, only a small fraction of which goes on outdated local processor designs built on a 90nm process. That latter fact suggests considerable investment will be required to hit the government's ambitious 2015 launch date for Baikal: industry sources claim Russia currently lacks 28nm semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.

11 Comments

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Spreadie 23rd June 2014, 13:31 Quote
Is this a security thing? Worrying about backdoors and spying from the US, or because they'll want to eventually market these externally themselves and have their own backdoors? :D
r3loaded 23rd June 2014, 13:46 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spreadie
Is this a security thing? Worrying about backdoors and spying from the US, or because they'll want to eventually market these externally themselves and have their own backdoors? :D

A bit of both, as well as developing their own economy into high-value industries. Relying on the oil industry for 70% of your GDP is not a sensible economic policy. The mess with Crimea hit the Russian economy quite hard and forced them into a weak negotiating position with China over the oil and gas deal.
hyperion 23rd June 2014, 21:36 Quote
Maybe I'm totally off the mark in saying this, but it feels like a few years ago there was just AMD, Intel and Via, but since ARM came along everybody and their grandmother is like "Derp. imma make processors". Not that I'm complaining...
iwod 24th June 2014, 06:09 Quote
Blame it on the US for putting a backdoor in everything.
Gareth Halfacree 24th June 2014, 09:18 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by hyperion
Maybe I'm totally off the mark in saying this, but it feels like a few years ago there was just AMD, Intel and Via, but since ARM came along everybody and their grandmother is like "Derp. imma make processors". Not that I'm complaining...
You know that Acorn was founded in 1978 and ARM (originally Acorn RISC Machines, later Advanced RISC Machines) in 1990, right? The first ARM chip was built in 1985. VIA didn't come along until 1987 - nine years after Acorn was founded, and two years after the first ARM chip was built!

For many companies, the IP route offered by ARM makes a lot of sense. Look at Samsung: it was already one of the biggest producers of semiconductors in the world thanks to its memory business. Given the choice of "make 10% profit on your CPUs by buying them off-the-shelf from Intel" or "make 50% profit on your CPUs by building them in your own factories, with the added bonus of being able to customise the design as you see fit" what do you think they were going to do?

If you don't have a semiconductor fab up your sleeve, of course, it's a different story - one that sees you at one remove from ARM, buying pre-made chips from Qualcomm, Nvidia et al.
hyperion 24th June 2014, 10:00 Quote
Yes, I agree. I'm not criticising or anything. It's just interesting to me since I remember people claiming that no one could stand up to Intel when Cyrix merged, whereas now there are cpu manufacturers popping up left and right who do their own thing regardless of intel.

I had no idea about Acorn being ARM, we had Acorn PCs in my primary school :o
Gareth Halfacree 24th June 2014, 10:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by hyperion
I had no idea about Acorn being ARM, we had Acorn PCs in my primary school :o
Oh, it's a fascinating story. Completely off-topic for here, but well worth looking into. You'll have used either Acorn Archimedes systems or (less likely but still possible) the later RiscPCs. Both were powered by ARM processors; the original ARM chip, meanwhile, was an add-on for the Acorn BBC Micro. Yes, the architecture that has become synonymous with mobile devices began on the desktop. The ARM instruction set itself was designed by Sophie Wilson, a founding engineer at Acorn, as a chip simulation written in BBC BASIC; she'd never done processor design before, and it worked first time, as did the hardware implementation which followed when co-founder Hermann Hauser agreed to fund the project. The modern ARM architecture isn't as far removed from Sophie's original creation as you might think - that's one of the reasons it's taken so long to get a 64-bit ARM chip out there.

But I digress. Wikipedia has a pretty thorough but dry write-up, and it's worth clicking through to the source links for more. Sadly, the otherwise excellent docudrama Micro Men stops the story short of the rise and fall of ARM, with little reference other than a scrawled note on a whiteboard in the background and a brief mention by Wilson's actor of "our own processor" as a suggested future project. It'd be nice to see Saul Metzen do a follow-up, but with the original destined to never arrive on DVD I'm not sure the BBC will see fit to fund it.

(Fun easter-egg, there: the landlady who calls "time, gentlemen, please" in the pub at the end of the film is actually Sophie Wilson herself!)
Spreadie 24th June 2014, 11:48 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
{A slice of encyclopaedic awesomeness}

I love how you can just call up stuff like that, Gareth.
Gareth Halfacree 24th June 2014, 11:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Spreadie
I love how you can just call up stuff like that, Gareth.
I'm a real hit at parties.
Cthippo 24th June 2014, 14:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by hyperion
Maybe I'm totally off the mark in saying this, but it feels like a few years ago there was just AMD, Intel and Via, but since ARM came along everybody and their grandmother is like "Derp. imma make processors". Not that I'm complaining...

To some extent I feel like the same thing is happening with operating systems as well. Governments are realizing that they can use the power and flexibility of open source to build OS's that are more secure and don't come from a single vendor they don't control, and which may have already been compromised. China's working on one distro, the NSA on another for things that need to be more secure than you can reliably get with Windows.

The obvious concern is that you will have different distros written for different hardware, none of which talks to each other, but I think there will be enough of a common heritage to avoid that.
Gareth Halfacree 24th June 2014, 17:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
The obvious concern is that you will have different distros written for different hardware, none of which talks to each other, but I think there will be enough of a common heritage to avoid that.
I have a poster from Personal Computer World Magazine - which is, annoyingly, larger than any of the frames I've got, so I need to buy a bigger frame at some point - which takes the form of a massive, multi-colour chart designed to help the viewer translate the BASIC variant used by one home computer into the BASIC variant of another. Yes, every damn computer had its own particular flavour of BASIC, even those that bought in from someone like Microsoft. A program written with BBC BASIC in mind wouldn't work with Commodore BASIC, and would need further modification for the Sinclair Spectrum, and yet more for the TI-99, and don't even get me started on the NewBrain... Oh, you've got a Jupiter Ace? That's FORTH, you're on your own there. Hope you can get your head around reverse Polish notation!

What's that saying? Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. (I always thought it was "doomed to repeat it," but I did a sneaky Google to be sure and apparently I've been misquoting it all these years. Whoops!)
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