Does China need its own chip standards? Can you get up?
IP, which is a legal term referring to intellectual property, is the abbreviation of Intellectual Property in English. In the chip industry, IP refers to those IP cores most of the time, and the definition is the mature design of circuit modules with independent functions in the chip.
With IP, the complex chip design does not need to be completed by the designer. Instead, it is realized by the designer's independent design plus IP, which reduces the complexity of the chip design. In a sense, IP is the key to making fabless companies bigger and stronger, allowing non-IDM companies to design large and complex chips.
From X86 to ARM, to RISC-V
For chip design, IP can be understood as sub-modules and subsystems, but they are protected by independent intellectual property rights and can be used only after commercial charging authorization. Therefore, IP needs to be designed according to some rules and cannot be defined arbitrarily without rules. At this point, we can get a good explanation from Arm's business model.
As the world's leading IP supplier, Arm first defined the ARM architecture. At present, more than 95% of smartphones and tablets in the world use ARM architecture. Under the ARM architecture, there are IPs with various functions, such as the M55 core used by the microcontroller MCU and the A55 core used by the CPU. Of course, there are also designs like Apple after buying Arm's IP back.
Under the guidance of China Integrated Circuit Innovation Alliance, China Integrated Circuit Design Innovation Alliance, China Semiconductor Industry Association Integrated Circuit Design Branch, National "Core Fire" Double Innovation Base, Suzhou High-tech Zone, co-sponsored "2021 China Integrated Circuit Design Innovation Conference and At the IC Application Expo" (ICDIA), Dr. Peng Jianying, the CEO of Xinlai Technology, said that from the earliest PCs to mobile phones, to the Internet of Things. We first experienced the "X86 era". In this era, we remember Intel and AMD. In the "ARM era", we remember Qualcomm, Apple, etc. From the perspective of ecological richness, ARM is the most extensive. From mobile phones to IoT terminals, it is now beginning to impact the server market. From the perspective of the development cycle, a mainstream structure must occupy the market, from its emergence to its growth, to its stability, and finally to its occupation of a certain market proportion. During this period, more than ten to twenty years are needed. Development cycle.
In fact, from the "X86 era" to today's "RISC-V era", the name of the era is changing, and the focus of the chip is also changing, but the product of the previous generation does not mean that it will completely disappear, but it is still playing It plays a huge role, just like the CPU of a computer. Therefore, for the "China Chip" that is determined to achieve beyond, the technology and products of each era need to make up for the shortcomings. Among them, IP richness and quality is a very important evaluation criterion.
As mentioned by Mr. Chen Weiliang, founder and CEO of Muxi Integrated Circuit, when he introduced the company, GPUs appeared in the X86 era. Intel's current model is to sell CPUs and integrated GPUs together. This is a very difficult field and requires a lot of strength. Systematization ability. This includes IP. The core team of Muxi has a full set of experience in GPU IP, design, and productization, which is a foundation.
It is undeniable that RISC-V is a huge industry opportunity. But as Peng Jianying said, today's RISC-V has only three years since the first company, Xinlai Technology, appeared in China. From IP design to the final chip launch, there will be a 3-5 year precipitation period. Therefore, It's still in the early stages. Although companies such as Zhaoyi Innovation and Espressif have launched some products on the market, it is still too early to discuss the market share.
The IP power behind "China Chip"
Chips are not a new concept and have gone through decades of development. Although the types of chips are still the mainstream of processor chips, other types of chips used on a circuit board are also very abundant. And behind every chip design will involve such and such IP, interface IP, DSP IP, RAM IP, controller IP...
Statistics show that the complexity of IC is increasing at a rate of 55% per year, while the design capacity is only increased by 21% per year. Therefore, if a chip company strives to be at the top of the industry, the difficulty can be imagined if it does not rely on the power of IP. On ICDIA, the word IP appeared in speeches and interviews of various companies.
As mentioned above, the core team of Muxi IC has more comprehensive experience in GPU, and the founder Chen Weiliang himself has experience in GPU architecture IP, and productization. He also mentioned that the industry IP core in a GPU occupies more than 80% of the area, and autonomous GPUs also start from IP design. This is a combination of IP and domestic GPU.
Xinyaohui Technology is a domestic company focused on IP research and development. Li Mengzhang, CTO of SYF Technology, mentioned that IP itself is becoming increasingly complex and requires comprehensive verification. Chip-level verification, system-level verification, reliability verification, and compatibility verification require the IP team to spend a lot of effort. This also contains a variety of innovations, advanced packaging from the combination of IP and packaging technology, and intelligence and automation from the combination of IP and EDA. This is the thinking of domestic IP manufacturers.
Core Motion Technology is an IP and chip customization, service provider. According to Gao Zhuan, the technical director of Xindong Technology, the total market value of IP itself is not large, probably only a share of billions of dollars, but IP can leverage hundreds of billions of semiconductor market. He believes that IP design needs to bear the pressure of design risks and advanced manufacturing processes, and IP design must closely follow new standards and new processes. Core Motion Technology has always paid attention to the development of interface IP, and currently, there are 5 billion IP cores used in customers' chips. This is the competitiveness demonstrated by domestic IP manufacturers.
Here, I would like to mention once again that Xinlai Technology is the first company in China to focus on RISC-V processor IP and corresponding solutions. From zero in 2018 to today's full range of IP solutions, all processor IPs of Singular Technology are configurable and can be benchmarked against similar products from Arm. This is also the competitiveness demonstrated by domestic IP manufacturers.
And there are many domestic EDA tools like Xingxin Technology. It is inevitable to design IP or combine IP in this field. Therefore, we say that the development of "China Chip" should focus on R&D. One of the key points is that in each domestic chip company, the core team needs someone who is good at IP.
Does China need to have its own chip standards?
In the above, we have talked about the general trend of global IP development and the IP power behind the "China Chip". On this basis, let's think about a topic that is currently very popular in China, that is, does China need its own chip standards?
Hu Weiwu, chairman of Loongson Zhongke and researcher at the Institute of Computing Technology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, recently stated that Wintel (Windows+Intel) and AA (Arm+Android) models have a monopoly on a global scale and that China needs to establish a third set of industrial discoveries. system. Once you have your own system, even the backward technology can have a good user experience.
Regarding the creation of China’s own operating system, the Huawei incident has explained that the operating system will also become a "stuck neck" link. Huawei mobile phones are deeply affected by businesses outside of China, and the application ecology can determine the user ecology behind it.
But there is a deeper problem behind this, that is, among the IP-related companies we mentioned above, in addition to the fact that Xinlai Technology is building an IP matrix based on the open-source architecture RISC-V, the other IP companies mentioned are following The mainstream architectures of "X86 architecture" and "ARM architecture" do things.
In fact, even the RISC-V architecture is not China's own system, but an open-source architecture. Therefore, as the pioneer of chip industry innovation, the major domestic IP companies basically continue to innovate under the global chip standard.
The IP gameplay itself is also evolving, and the Chiplet model has been widely recognized. Weimin Dai, the founder, chairman, and president of VeriSilicon mentioned in the topic "Chiplet Opportunities and Challenges" that in 2024, the global market size of Chiplet-based processor chips will reach 5.8 billion U.S. dollars, compared with 2018 The year’s 645 million U.S. dollars will increase by 9 times and will reach 57 billion U.S. dollars by 2035. For semiconductor IP, upgrading to a Chiplet supplier can increase the value of IP and effectively reduce the design cost of chip customers.
I have to say that Godson Zhongke is a minority. As early as ten years ago, Loongson Zhongke took the lead in implementing the "China National Command Set Architecture Plan." Prior to the "China Core" when it first became popular, there were also dividing standards. For CPU, it needed: 1. R & D institutions to be safe and confidential; 2. The instruction system could develop independently and sustainably; 3. The core source code must be written by yourself. Take a look at this representative-Loongson Zhongke's bumpy road, which is still entangled with MIPS IP, and was first sued by MIPS to settle the license fee. Nowadays, Shanghai Chiplink, which has obtained the exclusive right to operate MIPS in China, questioned its "completely" abandonment of MIPS and release of its own command system. The report has not been corroborated by related parties and is seriously inconsistent with the facts, which has damaged the legality of Shanghai Chiplink's rights and interests. Therefore, Shanghai Xinlianxin requires Loongson Zhongke to disclose the complete contents of the "LoongISA" and "LoongArch" manuals. So far, Loongson Zhongke has not given a response.
At present, it is in the critical period of Loongson's listing. If this matter cannot be resolved reasonably, the company will be under great pressure from public opinion and will also need to face the litigation issue of Shanghai Corelink.
As the "first share of China's semiconductor IP", VeriSilicon's IP covers graphics, video, digital signals, neural network processing, etc., and has cooperated with major foundry companies around the world, and its R&D strength is evident. However, Dai Weimin does not recommend that China develop its own chip standards, and insists on continuing to promote the RISC-V ecological construction of China's integrated circuit industry.
From X86 to ARM and then to RISC-V, the speed of "China Chip" has not been significantly behind this time. RISC-V is not only an opportunity for domestic IP but also a historic opportunity for domestic chips. Based on a brand-new open-source platform, it can compete with its international counterparts.
In the context of the country's promotion of intellectual property protection, the development environment of domestic IP companies will become more and more high-quality. In each link of domestic chips, there may be domestic IP companies or core personnel who have engaged in IP research and development can be seen in related companies. IP is considered to be the soul of the chip industry, and its role in the development of "China Chip" is huge.
Loongson Zhongke has persisted in taking the road of an "autonomous system" for so many years. The hardships can be imagined, and the doubts have never been stopped. Nowadays, the RISC-V instruction set is as prosperous as the MIPS back then. Are we taking advantage of our efforts? Or start anew?