When we think of the desktop-class processor market, one of the first things that comes to mind is a kind of dual monopoly: on the one hand, we have Intel, which has finally given up on Skylake and is moving to 12th-generation Alder Lake components this year. On the other hand, we are witnessing a glorious return of AMD to the field, which has brought extensive improvements in IPC and the number of cores with its consultant generations.
In the consumer processor space, this is a two-way street. But that does not mean that there is no other desktop processor in the universe. Just look at the activities of different companies to realize that this market is much wider and more diverse than it seems.
From high-performance logo designs to specialized chips owned by the Russian government, there are plenty of non-AMD and Intel chips in the world that power desktops and full-size computers. In some cases, such as the Zhaoxin Kaixian series chips, relying on the right communication channels, even you will be able to access such hardware. But who makes these processors? How fast are they? Can they experience video games on them?. Let’s overlook some alternatives to AMD and Intel processors.
PC logo: from mobile to the future of desktops
The main example of alternative processors is the logo company, which wants to change the desktop market conditions. Over the past year, Apple has introduced new MacBooks that have revolutionized the PC world in terms of internal specifications, despite their similar appearance to previous models equipped with Intel processors. The M1 Macs are equipped with Apple’s 5-nanometer chipset, which also benefits from Arm’s highly customized cores. From an architectural point of view, the M1 shares much of its capabilities with the iPhone A14 Bionic chip, rather than resembling Intel or AMD x86 components.
The M1 needs the Rosetta Translator layer to turn x86 code into something executable on the M1 chipset. Despite achieving poorer performance in older applications, the M1 can outperform Intel Comet Lake in some tasks. Then it comes to M1 native apps that give virtually no breathing space to competitors.
Apple wants to remove x86 chips from its Mac devices in the next year or two. Globally, macOS accounts for less than 7% of the PC market. This means that Apple Silicon parts are not going to magically replace the likes of Tiger Lake U. But Apple’s transition to the M1 chipset is likely to cause other manufacturers to take the PC logo more seriously.
In 2012, the Microsoft Surface RT had an ARM chipset that runs a different version of Windows. However, a series of compatibility issues with apps, speed, and the like have caused the PC logo to be overlooked as it should be. The M1 could, however, be a sign of a revolution that launches the logo, and on the other hand we have wider products equipped with Qualcomm 8cx, such as the Samsung Galaxy Book S. The logo on the piece is still in its infancy. But for another five years, chips not affiliated with Intel or AMD could be seen in abundance on desktops and laptops. And most of these systems are inspired by logo architecture.
Zhaoxin: Chinese x86 manufacturer that is about to do great things
Desktop and laptop class logo chips are becoming more common day by day. But what about alternatives to x84 architecture? We have only a few manufacturers in the world that have obtained x86 licenses: Intel, AMD, VIA and DMP Electronics. Intel and AMD do not need to be introduced. DMP is a Taiwanese manufacturer responsible for the development of Vortex86 series embedded chips, and you will find it in some set-top boxes as well as in the industrial sector.
So we stay and the company VIA. In 2013, the company established Zhaoxin, which works with the Shanghai Local Government and is part of China’s plan to reduce its reliance on foreign technologies. VIA currently owns a small stake in Zhaoxin and, most importantly, provides the x86 license that Zhaoxin needs to build its desktop-class processors.
Zhaoxin Kaixian processors are manufactured using 16nm lithography. The KaiXian-U6880A, the company’s best chip, can be freely purchased on the market and placed in a gaming system, provided you live in China. It is an octa-core component that operates at a relatively low frequency of 3.0 GHz. Also, in the U6880A, there is no news of hyperterding, “boosted” clocks or L3 cache. The benchmarks show that the U6880A has more or less the same performance as the AMD A10-9700 APU quad-core processor from the company’s 2016 bulldozer design era.
The U6880A is not exactly a “good” gaming processor: we’re talking about a piece that consistently outperforms the dual-core Athlon 200GE processor. In any case, the Zhaoxin processor is enough to get a frame rate higher than 30 frames per second in big-budget games like Hitman 3 and Far Cry 5.
Zhaoxin’s new generation KX-7000 series processors will appear in mass production with a 7-nanometer process. In this way, you can expect a higher clock speed and as much optimization as possible. But we still have to wait and see how this hardware performs compared to Alder Lake and Zen 4. Of course, the main goal here is not to achieve the highest net market performance. The company produces alternatives and china for x86 processors that are more reasonably priced for the Chinese market and can easily handle basic tasks.
Elbrus: Russian government server horse
The processor, borrowed from Mount Elbrus, the highest point in the Soviet Union, is another attempt by the Russian government to achieve self-sufficiency. Unlike the Zhaoxn chips, the Elbrus was developed solely to meet the secure processing needs of the Russian government, and you will not find Elbrus consumer parts in Russian hardware stores.
The Russian government uses Albrus in two ways: first, HPC servers for research and academic work, and second, as secure endpoint computers used in the military and other sensitive areas.
MCST, a Russian semiconductor company founded by some of the most prominent computer researchers in the Soviet Union, has been designing chips using Albrus architecture for nearly 30 years. These chips are not x86. However, the Albrus has dual translation capability and is very similar to the Apple M1 chipset. This feature allows Albrus hardware to run x86 programs and operating systems such as Windows.
It was only a few months ago that MCSR unveiled the Elbrus 16S. This is a 16-nanometer chip with a working frequency of 2.0 GHz, which achieves a processing power of 1.5 teraflops. Interestingly, the Elbrus 16S has a quad socket and supports up to 16 terabytes of RAM. Such a thing is not possible even on the top server hardware of Intel and AMD.
SHAKTI: Indian platform and IoT platform
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in 2018 unveiled a platform based on RISC-V. Indian silicon factories are still in their infancy. As a result, the new Shakti E series processors are built with a 180nm process and reach the 100MHz frequency limit. Naturally, these are not chips made for general use. Instead, the Shakti E series focuses on empowering IoT devices and applications, such as sensors.
Although Shakti Intellectual Property was developed with government funding, it is InCore Semiconductor that manufactures Shakti chips for private use. It will certainly take a relatively long time for the Chinese semiconductor industry to achieve similar capabilities as Intel (or even Zhaoxin). But in any case, the companies of this country have taken the first steps in their roadmap.
Intel and AMD will continue to dominate the desktop processor market in the near and distant future. Unless you live in China or work for the Russian government, only devices powered by Apple’s M1 chipset can replace the company’s hardware and offer competitive performance. But with the advent of governments around the world achieving self-sufficiency, as well as the slow and steady emergence of the logo on PC, the world of desktop processors is set to expand much more than ever.
What will the processor market look like by the end of this decade? We believe that Intel and AMD will continue to be among the top players in the market. But at the same time, many of us may have bought desktop processors with a logo or something more bizarre.