China in a bull shop: One of the largest Chinese tech companies has announced a 'game-changing' 3,072-core RISC-V server that used an indigeneous CPU — on US soil

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Chinese tech giant Alibaba has claimed it has built the first commercial server powered by a processor designed on the RISC-V CPU architecture, astonishingly announcing this news in the US at this year's RISC-V Summit.

As reported by HPCWire, the system, made using an indigenous Sophon SG2042 chip, is a gigantic 3,072-core server with 48 nodes that's been deployed at Shandong Univeristy in China. It's the first cloud-facing commercial server built with RISC-V processors. Each processor has 64 cores, with a 2GHz frequency, 64MB system cache and connectivity through PCIe 4.0. 

It means China has beaten the US in a key milestone in the race to expand the RISC-V ecosystem and the adoption of the embryonic chip architecutre, especially with the US government showing great interest in the technology.

Entering RISC-V political territory

First touted as a University of California project in 2010, the RISC-V instruction set architecture (ISA) has grown from strength to strength in recent years. Its aim is to rivalboth the prevalent ISAs within the next decade or so: x86 — which both Intel and AMD specialize in — and ARM.

Both ARM and RISC-V are reduced instruction set computing (RISC) CPU architectures, but the main difference is that ARM is proprietary technology, while RISC-V is an open source alternative. This means it's free-to-license, which lowers the barrier of entry. 

Indeed, x86 architectures are also closed source, making RISC-V one of the best candidates for an open and widely used ISA in the future. Big companies are buying into it, with Qualcomm, for example, creating a RISC-V Snapdragon Wearable platform that will power future Wear OS devices.

Given that RISC-V is an open standards, with technologists around the world contributing to its development, China reaching a key milestone in the race to the RISC-V ecosystem is particularly politically relevant.

Lawmakers in the US are concerned China might be exploiting the open nature of collaboration between predominately US companies to boost its own semiconductor industry — which could eat into the West's advantage, according to Reuters. This is particularly relevant considering the trade tensions, and recent developments in which the US blocked exporting high-end AI chips to China. 

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Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Channel Editor (Technology), Live Science

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is the Technology Editor for Live Science. He has written for a variety of publications including ITPro, The Week Digital and ComputerActive. He has worked as a technology journalist for more than five years, having previously held the role of features editor with ITPro. In his previous role, he oversaw the commissioning and publishing of long form in areas including AI, cyber security, cloud computing and digital transformation.