Hexin Technology, a CPU developer from China, said that it had powered on its HX-C2000 TC2, the second-gen test chip of its upcoming HX-C2000 processor based on the RISC instruction set architecture, marking yet another step forward for China as the country looks to overcome US sanctions. The chip wields 110 billion transistors and uses IBM‘s open source Power ISA. The company plans to use the CPU for a wide range of applications, including artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and cloud computing, reports Jiwei.com.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Hexin’s HX-C2000 is the company’s choice of architecture. Most server CPUs today use the Arm, RISC-V, or x86 instruction set architecture (ISA), but the Hexin team has turned to IBM’s Power, an open source RISC ISA. This ISA is formally open to everyone and debuted in China in 2014. The Hexin team comprises 400 members, many recruited from IBM’s high-performance R&D center. The team has “reconstructed” IBM’s closed design methodology with its EDA chip design tools, design flow, and architecture.
China’s server market size is expected to reach $30.8 billion in 2023 (according to IDC), and the vast majority of servers sold in China are based on x86 processors from AMD and Intel. Given restrictions that the U.S. government has imposed against China’s AI and high-performance computing (HPC) sectors, the country is inclined to build its own CPUs and GPUs to use in consumer PCs and servers.
Hexin’s HX-C2000 server design features an unknown number of RISC cores and appropriate input/output capabilities. Before Hexin builds its fully-fledged HX-C2000, it must build test chips (TC). The initial TC1 version was taped out and powered in 2022, and recently, the company powered on its second test chip, the TC2 (HX-C2000TC2). Apparently, it took Hexin just four hours to power on its HX-C2000TC2, indicating the silicon’s readiness. In addition, the developer claims the chip met all of its expectations.
The TC2 silicon is an important step towards taping out the whole HX-C2000 and its mass production sometime next year, though it is unclear when exactly the company will deliver the final chips.
While server programs support the RISC ISA, they are barely optimized for Hexin’s HX-C2000, especially for modern workloads like AI, HPC, and cloud. That said, while Hexin may make its HX-C2000 available next year, it will take the company quite some time to ensure that its CPU is properly supported by popular programs used in the markets it plans to serve.