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Updated February 5th, 2024 at 07:46 IST

China turns to open-source chips amid escalating US export controls

Chinese investments in RISC-V projects have surged, with over $50 million allocated between 2018 and 2023.

Reported by: Business Desk
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China chip woes: China's pursuit of technological independence has taken a notable turn with the development and adoption of open-source chips, particularly the RISC-V standard. This move comes amidst escalating US export controls and sanctions, prompting Beijing to seek alternatives to Western-dominated architectures like x86 and Arm.

Recent developments showcase China's strategic shift towards RISC-V, exemplified by the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences' use of this open-source standard in high-performance chip designs for cloud computing and smart cars. 

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RISC-V's open nature offers geopolitical neutrality, making it an attractive option for China as it navigates export restrictions imposed by the US and UK.

Chinese investments in RISC-V projects have surged, with over $50 million allocated between 2018 and 2023. This investment has led to breakthroughs in various sectors, including self-driving cars, artificial intelligence (AI), and data storage centres, signalling China's ambition to challenge the dominance of x86 and Arm architectures.

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RISC-V's simplicity and energy efficiency have propelled its adoption in China, where over half of the global shipments of RISC-V chips originate. 

While RISC-V's market share remains modest compared to established architectures, its potential to disrupt the semiconductor landscape is gaining traction.

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China's interest in RISC-V extends beyond civilian applications, with military-affiliated institutions actively promoting and developing RISC-V technologies. 

Institutes such as the National University of Defense Technology and Peng Cheng Laboratory have filed patents and conducted research, indicating the strategic significance of RISC-V in China's defence technology landscape.

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Despite its promise, RISC-V faces challenges in breaking the dominance of x86 and Arm architectures. 

However, its low cost, customizability, and energy efficiency have garnered attention from chipmakers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), underscoring RISC-V's growing relevance in the global semiconductor industry.

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As China accelerates its efforts to achieve technological self-sufficiency, RISC-V emerges as a pivotal component of its strategy to reduce dependence on Western technology and navigate escalating geopolitical tensions.

(With Reuters Inputs)

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Published February 5th, 2024 at 07:46 IST

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