The company architecture away from becoming a global player.
It’s no secret that China has been working to reduce its reliance on American technology, hence its decision to commit no less than $29 billion to homegrown intellectual property around semiconductors. The country also plans to replace all foreign hardware and software from its public infrastructure and institutions in favor of local alternatives by 2022.
One of the latest developments in that path is the recent arrival to the CPU market of an impressive x86 chip that is the result of a joint venture between the Chinese government and Via Technologies. It should be noted that Zhaoxin is not the first, but rather the culmination of a relationship between the two entities that started in 2013 and has supplied various local clients to this day.
Zhaoxin’s KaiXian KX-U6780A isn’t something that you’ll be able to buy outside of China anytime soon, but it paints an important picture of the progress made by a company that flew under everyone’s radar for much of its existence.
latest lineup and is based on the LuJiaZui architecture, which itself is an evolution of the WuDaoKou architecture. To get an idea on how much work went into it, the company says it’s the result of over 9,000 engineering months and 200 TB worth of data from simulating more than 4,000 cores against all kinds of software.
Until now, we’ve only been able to judge its capabilities based on leaks and official marketing materials. For instance, Zhaoxin claims it should perform similarly to an Intel Core i5-7400 (Kaby Lake), a chip from 2017. When the KaiXian chip appeared in PassMark’s CPU benchmark database, the result seemed to confirm this, except that the single-thread rating was considerably lower.
Then we saw the KaiXian KX-U6780A make an appearance on Geekbench earlier this month, with results following the same overall pattern. The Chinese CPU managed a single-core score of 363 and a multi-core score of 2091, which is outside of the scope of the i5-7400 that sits at 884 and 2793, respectively.
The new processor is built by TSMC on a 16nm FinFET process node
can operate at up to 2.7 GHz. It’s rated for a TDP of 70W, which is somewhat comparable to the i5-7400 TDP of 65W, but with no L3 cache and a larger process node, it’s no wonder why the Chinese chip isn’t quite able to keep up with Intel’s.
Still, it’s a big step for Zhaoxin. The folks over at Tom’s Hardware were able to get their hands on the KaiXian-U6780A processor and the HX002EH1 development board. The CPU comes in a 35mm by 35 mm HFCBGA package, and the stock cooler is reminiscent of AMD’s old stock coolers, with a relatively low profile heatsink and a noisy fan. An interesting fact about the Zhaoxin CPU is that it doesn’t feature some of the fancy technologies present in AMD and Intel’s CPUs. There’s no simultaneous multi-threading (SMT), hyper-threading, or any advanced frequency boost capabilities.
At most, the KX-U6780A supports a few P-states that seem to be there just as a way to save power when you’re using the “better performance” and “better battery” power modes on Windows 10. Otherwise, choosing the “best performance” power mode pegs the frequency at 2.7 Ghz regardless of what the CPU is doing.
You get 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes and support for up to 64 GB of DDR4-2666 RAM, and a custom, ZX-C960 iGPU that supports DirectX 11, OpenCL 1.1, OpenGL 3.2, and accelerated H.264 and HEVC encoding and decoding. Zhaoxin says the chip is capable of driving up to two 4K monitors simultaneously. However, trying to play Dota 2 on it at 720p and the lowest graphics settings results in a modest 19-20 fps, which is well below the 100-120 fps that you’d get from the Intel HD 630 found inside an i5-7400.
Hardware compared the single threaded and multi-threaded Cinebench scores
Interestingly enough, the KX-U6780A suffers from some of the Spectre vulnerabilities that affect Intel processors, with Zhaoxin planning to integrate in-silicon fixes in the KX-7000 series. The instructions per clock output is way behind that of modern Intel and AMD CPUs, even entry-level ones like Intel’s i3-7100 or AMD’s Ryzen 3 3200G.
When Tom’s Hardware compared the single threaded and multi-threaded Cinebench scores of these chips, it found that a lack of hyper-threading and frequency boosting abilities places the Zhaoxin CPU at a severe disadvantage. While it was almost able to keep up with a Core i3-7100 in the multi-core test, the single-threaded performance leaves much to be desired.