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China may be planning a single national computer architecture

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A Chinese government agency has expressed plans to decide on a single instruction set architecture (ISA) standard, something that could lessen its reliance on western intellectual property but could also pose difficulties if it is required for all government projects.

ARM Cortex-A15
ARM Cortex-A15

Several industry leaders have weighed in on a new Chinese government plan to approve a single instruction set architecture (ISA) standard, the system that describes how computer hardware deals with programming, commands, and other inputs and outputs. MIPS Technologies, which manages the ISA of the same name, says that the government is hoping to either approve a newly created ISA or one built off an existing system. "They want a common software ecosystem," says Robert Bismuth of MIPS, "and the only way to get that is with a common ISA." The MIPS-based Loongson chip, Bismuth says, may even be a candidate. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) hosted the first "China National Instruction Set Architecture" meeting in March, hoping that a new ISA could lessen China's reliance on foreign intellectual property.

China has already set its own standards for many other pieces of technology, most prominently TD-LTE, a variant of 4G LTE networks that's currently being tested by China Mobile. If it approves a new ISA, it could end up being required for projects that receive government funding, something that would cover a wide swathe of state-owned enterprises and other companies. However, not everyone thinks that the plan will come to fruition. The president of ARM, one of the most popular ISAs in China, says that "we are of course aware of this initiative. It is not new, and has been in discussion for many, many months." Although it would be possible to develop a new ISA, he continues, building an ecosystem around it would be far more difficult.