30 December 2009

What Took Wired So Loongson?

I've been writing about the Loongson chip for three years now. As I've noted several times, this chip is important because (a) it's a home-grown Chinese chip (albeit based on one from MIPS) and (b) Windows doesn't run on it, but GNU/Linux does.

It looks like Wired magazine has finally woken up to the story (better late than never):


Because the Loongson eschews the standard x86 chip architecture, it can’t run the full version of Microsoft Windows without software emulation. To encourage adoption of the processor, the Institute of Computing Technology is adapting everything from Java to OpenOffice for the Loongson chip and releasing it all under a free software license. Lemote positions its netbook as the only computer in the world with nothing but free software, right down to the BIOS burned into the motherboard chip that tells it how to boot up. It’s for this last reason that Richard “GNU/Linux” Stallman, granddaddy of the free software movement, uses a laptop with a Loongson chip.

Because GNU/Linux distros have already been ported to the Loongson chip, neither Java nor OpenOffice.org needs "adapting" so much as recompiling - hardly a challenging task. As for "releasing it all under a free software license", they had no choice.

But at least Wired got it right about the potential impact of the chip:

Loongson could also reshape the global PC business. “Compared to Intel and IBM, we are still in the cradle,” concedes Weiwu Hu, chief architect of the Loongson. But he also notes that China’s enormous domestic demand isn’t the only potential market for his CPU. “I think many other poor countries, such as those in Africa, need low-cost solutions,” he says. Cheap Chinese processors could corner emerging markets in the developing world (and be a perk for the nation’s allies and trade partners).

And that’s just the beginning. “These chips have implications for space exploration, intelligence gathering, industrialization, encryption, and international commerce,” says Tom Halfhill, a senior analyst for Microprocessor Report.

Yup.

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6 comments:

The Mad Hatter said...

The Loongson computers should be quite popular in the United States, with the recession dragging on and on and on...

glyn moody said...

and not only there...

Justin Cormack said...

It is not as free as it used to be as they have a MIPS license now, so not all the IP is locally owned.

Also the main point of the Loongson 3 seems to be to run x86 instructions under QEMU at near native speeds (see the Wikipedia article for references). Such a pity the world is tied to the x86 IA.

glyn moody said...

@justin: really? that's interesting - presumably part of China's increasing desire to become respectable in intellectual monopoly terms.

Dennis Murczak said...

@justin: Getting a MIPS license was a mere formality IMO. It is a very customizable architecture, and MIPS Technologies (contrary to ARM) doesn't force licensees to design the silicon against a fixed standard. I don't see significant IP issues here.

glyn moody said...

@Dennis: thanks