Chinese companies start to produce Zen-based processors using AMD’s IP

Chinese company's start to produce Zen-based processors using AMD's IP

Chinese companies start to produce Zen-based processors using AMD’s IP

Today, the x86 Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) has remained dominant in the PC/server markets for generations, being primarily dominated by Intel and AMD, who aside from VIA are the only companies that are capable of producing x86 processors.   

Both Intel and AMD are American companies, leaving other global superpowers concerned about their reliance on foreign nations to access cutting-edge computational technologies, especially in China. 

We have spoken about AMD’s joint venture with the Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Company (THATIC) before, the Chinese firm that agreed to pay $293 million to license AMD’s x86 processing technology back in 2016, with the promise of royalties on every chip sold after that. 

This agreement led to the creation of the Dhyana family of x86 processors, zen-based processors that use AMD IP but are built in China. These CPUs allow China to create x86 processors without foreign trade restrictions getting in the way, or fear the potential backdoors in-silicon that could have been implanted by foreign powers. 

Dhyana’s similarities to Zen can be seen by how easily support for the architecture was added to Linux, requiring less than 200 lines of new kernel code, a shockingly small amount of change for what could be considered as a new X86 processor type. This support was added without causing any coding conflicts with AMD EPYC series processors. 

Chinese company's start to produce Zen-based processors using AMD's IP  

Over the past week, more information has come to light regarding these new China-only Zen-based processors, which explains how AMD has been able to avoid the legal wrath of Intel, the creator of the x86 ISA. 

We already knew that Hygon, the Chinese joint venture that sells Dhyana processors, is co-owned by both AMD and THATIC, with AMD owning 30% of the company and THATIC owning 70%, though thanks to the work of My Drivers (via Tom’s Hardware) we now know that things are a little more complicated than that. 

AMD and THATIC created two joint ventures to avoid conflicts with AMD/Intel’scross-licencing agreement, Haiguang Microelectronics Co. Ltd (HMC) & Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit Design Co. Ltd (Hygon).  HMC is 51% owned by AMD, with the other 49% being held by THATIC, while Hygon is own primarily owned by THATIC. 

AMD Licenses their x86 IP to HMC, a company that owned by AMD and thus satisfies AMD/Intel’s cross-licensing agreement. HMC then licenses their IP to Hygon, who designs x86 chips and sells these designs back to HMC. HMC then finds a company that will fabricate their end products, either in China or from companies like TSMC and Samsung, only to then be repurchased by Hygon for sale within China.   

Moving forward, AMD is expected to earn a lot of money from this licensing deal within China, who seeks to become more self-reliant in the silicon markets.

Hygon’s Dhyana CPUs will not be available outside of China, which means that we will never see these Zen-like processors in Europe or the US, though the effects of AMD’s additional funding will no doubt deliver worldwide benefits for the CPU market. AMD’s increased funding will help the company invest further into their R&D efforts. 

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