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MIPS-like Godson could raise IP issues, says In-Stat

Posted: 26 Jul 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:64-bit processor? godson-2? dragon?

The Chinese 64-bit processor known as Godson-2, or Dragon, follows an unauthorized, unlicensed variation of the MIPS architecture, perhaps creating an intellectual property (IP) controversy between the U.S. and China, according to market research company In-Stat.

In-Stat (Scottsdale, Ariz.) studied the Godson architecture and the Godson-2 processor and concluded that China is capable of designing world-class microprocessors. It also found that Chinese designers are hindered by chip manufacturing capabilities that lags about two generations behind the rest of the world. If China was prepared to use independent foundries, it could gain on the rest of the world, but that could prompt IP controversy, In-Stat predicted.

The Godson architecture closely resembles the MIPS architecture from MIPS Technologies Inc. (Mountain View, Calif.) and is about 95 percent MIPS-compatible. In particular the Godson-2 processor is similar to the MIPS R10000, introduced in 1995, In-Stat said, adding that MIPS Technologies has no connection with Godson and hasn't licensed technology to Godson designers.

China is currently producing Godson processors only for the domestic market, but international exports are possible if Chinese manufacturers embed processors in consumer electronics products and other exports.

In-Stat said its conclusions are based on an independent analysis and an interview with Weiwu Hu, Godson's chief architect. Weiwu is a professor at the Institute for Computing Technology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, In-Stat said.

The market researchers also concluded that China is capable of designing "world class" microprocessors, which pose a threat to established players if Chinese companies decide to go global.

In-Stat senior analyst Tom Halfhill said China is "catching up fast" when it comes to microprocessor technology and noted that "the only restraint on their performance is that Chinese chip-fabrication technology lags about two generations behind the rest of the industry."

China's Godson-2 raising IP issues

Halfhill noted, however, that Chinese chip performance will improve as they access leading-edge fabs outside of China. For instance, the Godson team used Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.'s process technology to help it wring extra performance from the architecture.

In 2002, EE Times first reported that China's BLX IC Design Corp. launched the Godson-1, a 32-bit, 266-MHz standard cell implementation of a proprietary architecture based on the MIPS instruction set and manufactured in a 0.18-micron process. Godson-1 never gained traction in the market, however, despite claiming to have rallied local industry support around its architecture that extended to 60 companies, including Haier, a major Chinese manufacturer of appliances and consumer electronics.

The latest Godson runs at 300MHz to 500 MHz, despite using the same 0.18-micron process. Due to the lower performance of its predecessor, the chip has mostly been used in less demanding embedded applications. The Godson-2, according to its designers, could be designed into a general-purpose computing platform. The processor supports Linux for MIPS, VxWorks for MIPS, NetBSD for MIPS and Windows CE.

The company is already at work on a 64-bit version that will migrate to a 0.13-micron process and support multithreading. It should be released in 2006, according to the company's roadmap.

Since Godson-2 is 95-percent MIPS compatible, and closely resembles the MIPS R10000 introduced in 1995, Halfhill predicted IP complications since BLX has no licensing arrangement with MIPS. In the past, BLX's former chief executive, David Shen, said he tried without success to initiate talks with MIPS.

For now, it seems unlikely that BLX will become an international powerhouse. It has limited resources, and is content to sell the Godson chip domestically, which will help shelter it from lawsuits based on China's loose IP protections. The company signed a handful of agreements earlier this year with local Chinese firms to include the Godson-2 core in products ranging from routers to an SoC for an audio-visual specification, known as AVS, which is emerging in China.

Mike Clendenin, Peter Clarke

EE Times

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