Science Technology

Is there really no one in China that can play in the CPU field?

In the past two days, the news about Intel’s actions that hurt the feelings of the Chinese people was overwhelming, and the domestic public opinion was in an uproar.
I won’t go into the details of the event here. After all, major media have been competing to report it. That is to say, Intel has released a statement about its suppliers on its official website, “Our investors and customers have asked Intel whether to purchase products or services from Xinjiang, China. The governments of many countries and regions have imposed restrictions on products from Xinjiang. Therefore, Intel needs to ensure that our supply chain does not use any labor, purchased products or services from Xinjiang.”
Similar things have happened to large multinational enterprises in western countries more than once, such as some clothing brands that were scolded for deleting the statement and boycotted some time ago.
This time Intel stood up and said that it had learned from the past, and that the Chinese market was Intel’s largest market in the world, but it was still very arrogant.
Why does Intel dare to be a leader at such a sensitive time? The answer is, of course, the head iron. I’m not afraid of being beaten, or I know that no one can beat it.
According to the latest data released by Omdia, the authoritative semiconductor market research department in the UK, Intel ranked second in the world in the total sales of semiconductor companies in the third quarter of 2021, second only to Samsung, and its chip sales accounted for 12.3% of the global market, The influence in the semiconductor field can be seen (Omdia’s comprehensive ranking does not include the sales of semiconductor OEM, so the semiconductor OEM giants such as TSMC did not appear in the list).
The reason why Intel occupies such a large share of the global chip market is that we all know that Intel mainly sells the most core chip in computers – CPU is the central processing unit. Specifically, in the first quarter of 2021, for example, more than half of Intel’s revenue comes from the CPU of personal computers (such as laptops and desktop computers), and nearly half comes from the CPU of data center servers. The sum of the two revenue is basically 100%, and other revenue sources can be ignored.
Let’s look at the global market share of Intel’s two major businesses. In 2020, Intel’s share in the notebook CPU market reached 81%, and its share in the desktop CPU market reached 80.7%, both monopolizing the entire market, and the remaining share was basically occupied by AMD, another American company.
In the server CPU market, Intel’s share is even higher. In 2020, 94% of the global server CPU will use Intel chips, and the remaining few will still be occupied by its old rival AMD (the starting point of the histogram below is 91%, don’t be misled).
The reason why Intel dominates the CPU market and AMD eats leftovers is that the current global computer server CPU industry chain is built around a chip infrastructure called x86.
Intel is the patent owner of x86 architecture. Due to a series of inexplicable historical reasons and chaotic lawsuits, AMD is one of the two companies that have obtained Intel x86 license worldwide (the other is now the nameless Weisheng), and it still survives the competition with Intel and retains a certain market.
Unlike ARM companies that specialize in ARM chip architecture, the main revenue source is to sell ARM architecture to major chip manufacturers. Since Intel itself makes CPU chips, Intel will hardly sell x86 architecture to any other competitors.
Therefore, this has resulted in the fact that almost two companies in the world have the strength and ability to produce high-performance CPU chips. If a third company wants to get involved, it is basically impossible to buy x86 from Intel (but it can be obtained from the other two companies, which will be discussed later). Unless this company uses a new chip architecture to design CPU, the key is to make the global computer industry chain acceptable. This possibility is as difficult as that of a company coming forward to design a new operating system to replace Windows and let global software developers redevelop software for it.
Or to put it simply, the global computer industry has been built on Intel’s x86 foundation for so many years. It is needless to say how difficult it is to reopen the industry chain and rebuild the building.
Therefore, Intel naturally knows its position. At present, China or any other country in the world (except the United States) is unlikely to stand up against Intel, which is much more difficult than resisting a clothing brand.
If you choose to join the AMD camp, on the one hand, Intel chips can’t be replaced in many segments. On the other hand, AMD has also issued an unnamed statement. To put it plainly, people have a clear idea of what they want to do, but I don’t know.
Is there really no one in China that can play in the CPU field?
Although there are no large high-performance CPU manufacturers like Intel and AMD in China, they are currently in the stage of starting a prairie fire everywhere.
There are three main types of enterprises involved in CPU R&D in China. The first is the easy mode: directly use the x86 architecture. As mentioned earlier, Intel x86 is not sold. However, there are two companies in China that have obtained x86 authorization through various magic ways, namely, Megacore licensed from Weisheng and Haiguang licensed from AMD. Although the starting point of CPU R&D using x86 architecture is very high, the core technology is basically out of our hands because of the use of pure American technology, and the risk is very high. Everyone understands.
The second type is common mode: using ARM architecture in the mobile CPU monopoly market to engage in computer and server CPUs. The representative enterprise is Huawei. The advantage of this is that ARM architecture can be fully authorized (after all, it is sold by others) and freely developed. The disadvantage is that ARM is not very suitable for the non-mobile device market, and ARM also has the risk of being cut off.
The third is the difficult mode: completely use the self-developed chip architecture, and push the foundation back. The representative enterprise is Longxin, which will be listed on the Science and Technology Innovation Board. Due to a series of intellectual property lawsuits in the early stage, Loongson decided to switch to the research and development of CPU products based on its own research chip architecture LongArch from 2021, and has successfully developed several CPU products based on LongArch.
Therefore, although Longxin has taken the most difficult road, it is a difficult but relatively safe road.
However, although Loongson has its own chip architecture with intellectual property rights, it is still a pure chip design company. That is to say, like Huawei HiSilicon, it is still stuck in the field of chip manufacturing.
In addition, Loongson also faces the problem of industrial chain support. After all, no major computer or server manufacturer dares to use the CPU with new architecture as its core. Besides, its performance still lags far behind Intel and AMD, and it cannot support mainstream operating systems and software.
However, in the current complex situation, no matter how difficult it is, we should also carry out self-study.
A few years ago, there was a serious diplomatic conflict between Japan and the ROK, and the two sides were at daggers drawn. However, after Japan directly cut off the supply of various high-end semiconductor materials to the ROK, the ROK immediately relented, and the United States intervened. When technology enterprises such as Intel stand up and clamor, China also needs technology enterprises that can help the country to counter the system, and this kind of technology enterprises that can meet the challenge must go through a difficult growth process. After all, the key core technology is not available, cannot be bought, cannot be obtained, which has become the way that Chinese technology enterprises must go under the current situation.