we analyze the features of the Chinese laptop Roma and the prospects for devices from China
that the Chinese released the world’s first laptop with a RISC-V processor. The device was developed by Chinese companies DeepComputing and Xcalibyte. The advantage of the laptop is precisely that it is based on a processor with RISC-V architecture. This opens up great opportunities for the Chinese electronics industry in the future. As far as you can understand, this laptop can be called a trial balloon, in the relatively near future the Celestial Empire will introduce other devices based on this architecture.
Briefly about the laptop itself
The main thing in it, as mentioned above, is the processor. This is an Alibaba T-Head TH1520 chip with four 64-bit cores
, whose frequency reaches 2.5 GHz. It includes both the Imagination Technologies video subsystem and a 4 TOPS neural block.
As for other characteristics, there is nothing remarkable there, but this does not mean that the laptop is bad. It’s just a “workhorse”, and the first of its kind. If you missed the characteristics of the device from the previously published news, then here they are:
• TH1520 processor from Alibaba T-Head with four cores Xuantie C910 with a frequency of 2.5 GHz;
• NPU performance 4 TOPS;
• GPU developed by Imagination Technologies;
• Arm SC300 Cortex-M3 security enclave processor with Trusted Execution Environment certification;
• up to 16 GB LPDDR4 or LPDDR4X at up to 4266 MT/s, 256 GB SSD;
• HDMI, USB-C, USB-A and Ethernet ports, SD slot;
• weight 1.7 kg, dimensions 325 x 225 x 18 mm;
• 14.1″ FHD screen, 1080p webcam, backlit keyboard;
• support for Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi;
• own OS from Alibaba, based on Linux OpenAnolis.
As for the battery, the manufacturer promised about 10 hours of battery life. There is also a fingerprint scanner built into the touchpad. Good, but not fantastic.
By the way, the Chinese have previously stated that the Alibaba T-Head TH1520 processor will be removable, that is, located in the slot, as was the case in most laptops of previous years. Now almost all chips are soldered on the board, which makes it very difficult to repair or upgrade devices.
The network is now widely discussed the cost of the device, which ranges from $1500 to $5000. Many commentators are wondering who even needs a regular mid-range laptop at this price and who will buy it.
The price doesn’t matter
Of course, we are talking only about the current stage, which can clearly be called a check, a dress rehearsal before the release of the batch for the global market. The fact is that now about a hundred devices are on sale, and in 2023 the Chinese plan to put about 1000 more devices on the market. All this is not even a drop in the ocean, but much less, if we consider the volume of batches of laptops supplied to the market by large companies. They are supplied in tens and hundreds of thousands within one model, which, of course, affects the price – it is relatively low, since sales volumes are huge.
In the current situation, Chinese companies are clearly not planning to make money on their devices. A lot of resources have definitely been invested in them, including financial, administrative and time. Therefore, the “exhaust” cannot be large right now. Companies are still operating at a loss. But those devices that are now dispersed around the world will fall into the hands of bloggers, electronics experts, etc., and Roma will receive free advertising for their products. If it turns out that laptops are quite working, then the Chinese will be able to enter into lucrative contracts with electronics supermarket chains, supplying laptops to a variety of countries.
What are the advantages of RISC-V?
The fact is that it allows you to create a heterogeneous computing environment with cores optimized for different types of calculations working together, which is unusual for people. In addition, RISC-V does not have the licensing fees that many other architectures require.
It is worth noting that the idea is not the newest. So, the Playstation 3 chip had a similar architecture called Cell with a general-purpose Power Processor Element (PPE) core and special-purpose vector processors Synergistic Processing Elements (SPE). However, PPE and SPE had different instruction sets, which made it difficult to work with the Cell architecture. Modern RISC-V systems have the advantage of having the same basic set of instructions and registers for all types of cores. Architecture has been developing for about 10 years. In 2015, its development has already reached such heights that it was even necessary to establish an international non-profit organization RISC-V Foundation, which includes more than 1000 members in 50 countries.
In China, the RISC-X architecture is being developed, which, as the name suggests, is based on RISC-V. At the same time, like the basis, the new technology will be open and free, not only for the Chinese, but also for companies from any other countries. The Chinese think big, so the new architecture for them is a fallback in case the US tries to “excommunicate” them from RISC-V with the help of sanctions, despite the openness of this technology.
And yes, India is also working on developing its own RISC-V architecture. In the summer of 2022, the government of the country developed and announced a roadmap for the design and production of semiconductor components based on the RISC-V architecture. The company is going to supply world-class chips in large volumes by the summer of next year.
A vision for the future
If the laptops turned out to be successful and do not fail in work (this will be found out after the first tests), then this whole epic with Chinese electronics, its import independence and difference from Western standards is reaching a new level. We must think that the technology will not stand still, they will develop it and try to produce devices based on new chips without fear of US sanctions.
True, it is not yet entirely clear who manufactures the chips – TSMC, another external company, or the Chinese have launched the production of processors on their own (which also cannot be ruled out). If complex RISC-V chips are produced in the PRC, then in the near future we can definitely expect the dominance of devices from the Middle Kingdom.