China making own PCs with own CPU and Linux

January 20, 2007

China is about to put on sale its own computers running with its own processor and Linux. This news will not bring unalloyed delight to Intel and Microsoft.

Wu Shaogang, a manager from manufacturer Lemote Technology has said the first batch of 80 computers powered by home-grown Chinese CPUs are undergoing user tests. This means the home-made chip, Godson II E, is out of the lab and moving into at least a small commercial operation followed by the big time.

Lemote, which is based in Changshu in China’s Jiangsu Province, hopes to get a thousand PCs out on to the market in China before the Chinese New Year. Which means that we will see them in the rest of the world before the end of the year.

The PCs will use Linux, have a 40-gigabyte hard drive and 256 megs of memory.  Price in China will be RMB1,599 ($200) to which you have to add a monitor and a keyboard. Probably come in at around $250 in the first instance.

So it is not that much less expensive than a standard PC. But it is made in China, uses Linux, is more that adequately specced and will undoubtedly find a market.

The chip which powers it, Godson II E was developed by the Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. China started CPU research and development in 2001, and the first chip, Godson I, came out in September 2002. Since when there have been three more generations of the Godson — Godson II B, Godson II C and Godson II E. The latter models tripled the computing speed of the previous ones.

This is all part of China’s 863 Program and Knowledge Innovation Project which started back in 1986 and is aimed to  boost the development of science and technology in China.

Does this mean we will see a rash of computers from China coming on sale? In fact, this has been the case for a long time. It is just they had different labels: IBM (now Lenovo), Dell, Hewlett-Packard and the rest. The only differences were that these were badged machines that ran an Intel chip and Microsoft Windows.

Now the Chinese computers can run a chip made in China and operate with Linux. And that is a wondrous revolution.

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53 Responses to “China making own PCs with own CPU and Linux”

  1. Henry Granger:

    I wonder whether they’ll do a low-power version of the Godson – I’d love to see a low-cost linux laptop.

  2. QUASAR:

    here says that the processor consumes 2 o 3 watt http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godson

  3. Ronald:

    I can’t really see that this has a market outside China; I’m not sure whether there is a market inside China. Wouldn’t you just buy a cheap PC with an AMD chip?

  4. Gareth Powell:

    I think there is a market outside China. What the manufacturer has is the benefit of massive numbers. The potential market for such a PC in China is, say, half a billion. That beats everyone else into a cocked hat. Given that number then you have the price coming down.
    Yes, China has a problem in that it has not yet come to terms with the concepts of design. And Lenovo suggests it has not come to terms with marketing in the Western world.
    Accepting all that a complete computer running with Linux, which has a stack of very good Open Source programs, costing much, much less than the competition will work. Chinese manufacturers are very smart at cutting costs, not so good at design, and still getting their act together in marketing. But I think this computer will make an impact.

  5. Stephan:

    China has an interesting mixed political and economic model. It would be interesting to see if China forces government agencies to adopt these PCs, or whether they will be left to make their own purchasing decisions on the “open” market.

  6. Andy Dabydeen:

    I’m of two minds on this … great for China, cutting the dependence on foreign patents … but, isn’t this just reinventing the wheel?

  7. Gareth Powell:

    First of all the politics of China are, indeed, complex. But I am quite, quite certain that there will be no central mandate that every government department has to use one of these. Provincial governments have a splendid habit of ignoring what the central government wants.
    No, it is not reinventing the wheel.
    China is going through a process which the United States and Europe went through at the end of the Victorian era – say 1870 – 1900. It is finding its feet, become its own creator. This computer is a very important part of the process. It contains a processor China made and invented. Considering a fab – a fabricating plant – is priced by Intel at $3.5 billion this is a great achievement. Next it has made a box, not difficult, which is not offensive to the eye. Finally, it has cut the cord with Microsoft which I consider a great and good thing.
    Do I think it will totally change the world of computing? No. But it will make Intel lift its game and it will make Steve – the Enforcer -Ballmer think carefully of Microsoft’s future in the second biggest market in the world.
    Gareth

  8. Ace Employment Services:

    Who knows ?
    And then again ?
    It is a bit diffirent since this is a rapidly changing field with earthshaking technoligical adavances thaw seem to come out of nowhere.
    But then the technology applied is way beyond overkill.
    It will be interesting.
    No one wants to be the sawyer of wood and heywer of water forever.

  9. ted pikul:

    mmm.. if its $200-$250 consumer and the CPU has a half decent Floating point and runs LAMP whell … then a cluster / web server pool should be $100-$150 per node (depending on memory/HD costs) which is much cheaper than the Intel and AMD offerings…

  10. bad reporting:

    the Godson chip is a typical Chinese knockoff of a US design (mips). Try doing some research on what you ‘report’/blog

  11. eclectoplasm:

    Cheaper processor, lower energy consumption and no Windows tax. I can’t wait for those computers to be on sale in the West.

  12. stolen tech:

    Don’t hold your breath about these machines going anywhere with a US trade policy. Their core is based on pirated (unlicensed) tech. Old, outdated early 90′s work… Sounds top notch!

  13. Keith:

    It is probably good to know that Intel has some new competition running around. It’s just like comparing quality Heinze Beans and those Tesco 20p baked beans.

  14. low calibre:

    New competition within China’s borders maybe. Comparing the latest Intel CPU to the latest Godson revision is akin to comparing a Bugatti Veyron with a quad-turbo fitted 1998 Ford Fiesta. Hope you like dear leader’s Red Flag linux.

  15. Penguin Pete:

    Me, I’m suffering a paradox. On the one hand, China is supporting technology freedom for the people. On the other hand, China sensors Internet content. As a previous poster here pointed out, the politics must indeed be complex!

    Now, hos do you fix open source so that people can’t use it to hack their way past the censorship filters? These two objectives are diametrically opposed!

  16. Rick Laviolette:

    It was only a matter of time before the chinese started cutting foreigners out of the profit picture. After all they haven’t honored any international patents.

  17. momojie:

    I think the Godson makes sense to Chinese.Cpus from American are too expensive to them.One Pentium 4 2.80GHZ CPU cost a white-collar’s 1/3 wage of a month in China.That’s the truth.Truth usually hurts.But what about USA??

  18. Hermit:

    All you folks deriding the Godson as a stolen design need to get a clue, or at least read the wikipedia article. It’s based on the MIPS ISA, but that spec is available to the public, just like the SPARC ISA, only certain opcodes dealing with non-aligned memory access are patented by MIPS, and those instructions are not implemented by the Godson. And to call a chip with 47 millions transistors, design features like 4-issue superscalar architecture and branch-prediction an early 90′s design, is to show your utter ignorance, or deep-seated prejudice, or both.

  19. Brian:

    Get a multi-core version out.
    Make it cheap.
    Develop some video capability.

    Compete with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo for gaming/home theatre PC.
    If they can get .1 to .5% of the chinese population to buy one they’ll be successful.
    China itself has pretty good HDTV penetration.

  20. A Chinese guy:

    For those who have negative views on Chinese technologies, I agree that China still has tons of problems, for example, politics, freedom, and environments, to solve. However, when you have a chance, visit China and take a look. It’s growing so fast and even as a native Chinese, I am shocked to see the difference every year when I go back to China. Technology wise, China is catching the world in a fast pace, and I can imagine that one day, it may become a leader.

  21. Technology Enthusiast:

    Look, you may have misgivings about the politics of China. That’s fine. But it shouldn’t cloud your judgement about the technical aspects of this annoucement. To do so would be intellectually dishonest. Like the previous poster said, the Godson is a modern RISC design implementing 64-bit MIPS-like instruction set (minus some MIPS patented instructions), four-way superscalar out-of-order execution pipeline, with dynamic branch prediction and non-blocking cache. And if you knew anything about microprocessor design and assembly programming, you’d appreciate the clean MIPS instruction set versus the convoluted x86.

    The lastest Godson 2E appears to be implmented on a 90 nm process, running at 1Gz with performance comparable to a Pentium 4, while only consuming 3-5 watts. I’d call that pretty decent. If this box comes with all the standard I/O connectors, SATA/USB/ethernet/etc. I wouldn’t mind getting one to tinker with.

  22. Techie:

    Gareth has posted more info http://tech.blorge.com/Structure:%20/2007/01/22/china-making-own-pcs-running-with-linux-but-please-shut-up-about-it-and-why-are-you-running-those-damn-pictures/

  23. Bob Prechter:

    The website (above and below) is devoted to this truly revolutionary development.

    Remember RCA? No-name Japanese brands (after the big Japanese brands Sony and Matsushita) ran them out of business. We are at that stage now with computers: a flood of “no name” brands from China is starting.

    They want to make their own, not content to just make for the Taiwan contract manufacturers who in turn make for name-brand U.S. companies

    http://home.earthlink.net/~moores-law/

  24. Rufus Polson:

    It stands to reason that China would want their own independent technology base, including such things as relying on a non-Intel chip. The same might apply to other countries or groups eventually, such as India, Russia, the EU or even in the future some consortium of Latin American countries if they continue to increase their co-operation.
    One interesting result of such efforts is that they would by definition doom Windows in their respective areas, probably in favour of Linux, because Windows simply won’t run on non-Intel chips. After five years of work, it seems Vista is barely 64-bit on Intel. AMD’s an exception because it basically mimics Intel, but even there I believe Windows won’t run on AMD64. It’s incredibly nonportable. By contrast, Linux runs on everything. In the long run, to maintain their desktop dominance Microsoft will have to put hardware development in stasis; I don’t think they can do it.

  25. DAV:

    China made a good step and they are really independ from USA. I would like to see a Russian Federation stepping in such direction but we are feeded by Intel and AMD. If war started, nobody knows where we will get a new spares for computers.

  26. not sitting in a basement:

    Defend China’s disrespect for other’s IP and patents all you want. Other than 90nm and low power consumption, there is nothing this chip offers that wasn’t available in the 1990s in the US. No sense arguing with know-it-alls. *stops speaking truth to the ‘enthusiasts’*

  27. TE:

    Any facts to back up your accusation of IP and patent infringement? We are talking about this one chip, made by one company, why do you have to drag the whole country into this? Do you think everything made in China is based on stolen IP, that they are not capable of innovation, or are you simply showing your ignorance and bias? If you don’t see any sense arguing with “know-it-alls” i.e. people more knowledgable than you, who put forth reasonable argument based on facts, then why do you keep making foolish, outlandish claims?

  28. just an asian guy somewhere:

    my prejudice would start here:
    in my language, Lemote stands for “lemah otak” or in english “weak brain”, this term is usually used for those stupid girls who just can’t get things right and slow thinkers *LOL*

    but no, that’s just intermezzo.. threw prejudism far away

    i’m waiting for this chip and CPU rising up soon, because i know that Chinese imitate things, and they do it real nice! cut the price like crazy! i mean this is a compliment! remember what japanese did after they lose the war and how great they became–by first imitate and then produce their own things, later set the high standards for them :)

    well, hoping to see such a revolution, maybe not so soon though..

    go china!

  29. another Chinese guy:

    may be Godson chip cannot have a great market,or earn lots of money f or us,but it really means a lot for China.We All Chinese people realised that I should have our own tech.Thousands and miliions of Chinese now living in a bad condition,but make more and more efforts than you do.yes ,yes,China is poor today,BUT Not For EVER,You guys watching carefully!

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