China’s Computer Chip

Because China is so dependent on Western companies like Intel and AMD for their computer chips, the country has taken to creating their own. One that’s flexible enough to work for personal computers, super computers, the military, space exploration, online commerce, etc.  The chip is known as the Loongson.

For starters, it could help usher in an era of true post-Windows PCs. Because the Loongson eschews the standard x86 chip architecture, it can’t run the full version of Microsoft Windows without software emulation. To encourage adoption of the processor, the Institute of Computing Technology is adapting everything from Java to OpenOffice for the Loongson chip and releasing it all under a free software license. Lemote positions its netbook as the only computer in the world with nothing but free software, right down to the BIOS burned into the motherboard chip that tells it how to boot up. It’s for this last reason that Richard “GNU/Linux” Stallman, granddaddy of the free software movement, uses a laptop with a Loongson chip.

Loongson could also reshape the global PC business. “Compared to Intel and IBM, we are still in the cradle,” concedes Weiwu Hu, chief architect of the Loongson. But he also notes that China’s enormous domestic demand isn’t the only potential market for his CPU. “I think many other poor countries, such as those in Africa, need low-cost solutions,” he says. Cheap Chinese processors could corner emerging markets in the developing world (and be a perk for the nation’s allies and trade partners).

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