8-Core x86 CPU From China Goes Up for Sale
In 2013, VIA Technologies created a joint venture with the Shanghai Municipal Government and created Zhaoxin, a fabless semiconductor company. Zhaoxin (meaning “million-core,” according to Wikipedia) launched a series of chips based on the old VIA Isaiah core. Over the years, the company has evolved the original Isaiah architecture into a higher-performing CPU core, with more cores, higher clocks, and a lower process node. The current CPU family’s code name is Lujiazui and it’s used in the KX-6000 series of products.
To be clear, Zhaoxin is entirely distinct from Thatic, the joint venture that AMD formed a few years ago. The pedigree for Zhaoxin flows back through VIA through the acquisition of companies like Cyrix and Centaur Technology, as well as through VIA’s own legal settlements with Intel. While I’m cutting through a lot of x86 history here, Centaur’s general design philosophy from the VIA acquisition through the present day has been an emphasis on low-power, efficient computing. There was a brief time, around the turn of the millennium, when VIA was building low-power fanless products for passive, silent SFFs (Small Form Factor systems).
THG has more details on the first Zhaoxin parts to turn up for retail sale in China. The KX-U6780A is an 8C/8T CPU clocked at 2.7GHz, with an 8MB L2 cache and a 70W TDP. There is no L3. The CPU appears to have an integrated GPU with DX11.1 support, along with support for standards like AVX and SSE4.2, PCIe 3.0, M.2 slots, and USB 3.1. While the CPU is only offered in BGA format, there’s going to be a supported mITX motherboard, the C1888.
The Chinese community enthusiasts who benchmarked the board were able to compare it against the previous Zhaoxin product, the KX-C4580. The KX-C4580 is a 4C/4T CPU at 1.83Hz — but it’s clear that there’ve been some substantial additional architectural improvements. If we start from the 228 baseline and assume perfect scaling, we’d expect the U6780A to provide 2x performance based on core count and a 1.47x improvement based on clock. That only takes the R20 score up to ~670, implying the new CPU’s IPC is roughly 1.26x higher in Cinebench on top of the core count and clock gains.
According to CPU-Z’s single-thread rankings, a score of 171 puts this chip in the same ballpark as the Core 2 Duo E7400 (178) or the Core i5-5200U (168). A CB20 score of 845 puts the KX-U6780A in the same range as the Intel Pentium G4600 at 838 (2C/4T, 3.6GHz), or the AMD FX-6300 at 854 (6C/12T, 3.5GHz – 4.1GHz). While it’s obvious that the per-core performance from the Zhaoxin CPU is much lower than the Intel equivalent, the Pentium G4600 does have a 1.33x clock speed advantage.
Anyone looking for a reason to dismiss the KX-U6780A will find reason to do so. Best-case, you’d be buying performance similar to what you could get from Intel or AMD 6-8 years ago. Focusing on that issue, however, misses the rapid rise of China’s manufacturing and semiconductor industry. Zhaoxin has evolved its product line rapidly, moving from Isaiah-derived parts directly based on the old VIA architecture to newer chips that have significantly improved the performance of the underlying CPU. While the new chip may not pack much performance compared with a top-end part from AMD or Intel, the KX-U6780A is still much faster relative to AMD or Intel than previous CPUs the company or country has fielded.
China has set aggressive targets for itself in terms of semiconductor self-sufficiency, and ramping up the performance and production of its home-grown products is part of that. While the company’s current manufacturing capabilities can’t build 7nm hardware, mainland China’s largest foundry, SMIC (Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation) announced volume production of 14nm wafers as of last November. We don’t know anything about yields, so we can’t speculate there, but China is catching up to the United States, Korea, and Taiwan in terms of advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.