Intel Xeon chips to get a Chinese sidekick

Intel unveiled a “strategic collaboration” Thursday with a Chinese university to make a computer processor module that would run alongside the Xeon processors that power Chinese data centers.

Intel is providing more than $100 million to support the project.

The Santa Clara chip giant said the module would “add capabilities that address specific local requirements” and help protect the intellectual property of both Intel and China.

The new module — containing a processor and system software — will be developed by Intel and Tsinghua University and commercialized by Montage Technology Global Holdings. It will be based on “reconfigurable” technology developed by Tsinghua University, which is spearheading China’s drive to develop a home-grown chip industry.

“Intel wants to expand its market presence in China, especially in the large data center,” said industry analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. “The way to do that is to partner with local users who are going to drive the market. It’s like Intel partnering with MIT or Stanford.” The arrangement allows Intel to protect its processes while Tsinghua will keep what it designs, he said.

The Chinese government has also been concerned about protecting its technology following revelations of eavesdropping by the National Security Agency.

“China wants their own CPU for government-funded organizations,” said industry analyst Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights and Strategy. “It’s part of what is called China 2016 with the desire to own the security. In this scenario, Intel provided the Xeon and then Montage adds the security bits, packages it, and ships it” to Chinese manufacturers.”

Raj Hazra, Intel data center group vice president, explained in the announcement that the Chinese data center market is growing rapidly and diversifying, and the chip would address various “local requirements.”

He said Intel collaborates with companies that use Xeon chips but add on their own innovations.

“We believe this new collaboration is a win-win as it enables TU and Montage to innovate alongside standard Intel Xeon processors to create new and compelling indigenous products while preserving the respective intellectual property of all parties,” Hazra said in a blog post.

Montage Technology Group specializes in chips for home entertainment and the data center cloud. It was acquired by Montage Technology Global Holdings in 2014, an investment group that was formed by Shanghai Pudong Science and Technology Investment and China Electronics Investment Holdings, which is a subsidiary of CEC, the largest state-owned IT company in China.

Intel said it has invested more than $7.5 billion in China in the past 30 years, including recent collaborations with Rockchip and Spreadtrum Communications targeting mobility.

Photo: Intel headquarters (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)


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