At present, investors state that Intel controls 98% of the server processor market with its Xeon CPUs, but the server market is changing. Intel's acquisition of Altera is telling - many companies these days require chips with specific features and functionality, and as a result Intel has been making strides to add custom features to its processors. In an extension of this, this month Intel agreed to jointly work with Tsinghua University and Montage Technology to develop custom server platforms for servers used in China.

Under the terms of the agreement, Tsinghua University will develop a reconfigurable computing processor (RCP) module, as well as system software, that will work with a standard Intel Xeon CPU to add features that address requirements for specific applications in various market segments in Asia. The RCP will be made by outsourcing to a maker of semiconductors and it is likely that the government-controlled university may prefer to make the chip in the country or through a subsidiary.

The computing solution proposed consists of an Intel Xeon and a custom RCP, but will not be a multi-chip-module package designs like Intel’s Xeon processors with integrated Altera FPGAs. Instead we are told it will involve a different kind of packaging. Unfortunately, at present it is unclear whether Intel’s Xeon and Tsinghua’s RCP will communicate using known standards (such as the PCI Express interface, QPI, or other), or a custom protocol. 

Intel, TU and Montage did not disclose a lot of technical details about their joint semi-custom solution for Chinese datacenters, but re-configurability of processors implies that the final product could address a broad range of market segments. We postulated that the RCP is just another name for an FPGA, although our sources were unable to confirm this.

Intel will ensure that its chips work with RCPs, and will supply CPU dies to Montage Technology which will market the whole solution to interested parties. Montage plans to sell the final product, which will consist of a standard Intel Xeon CPU, a reconfigurable computing processor developed by Tsinghua, as well as software, in 2017. There is no information about specifications of the Xeon processor lines that will be used, nor the capabilities of the RCP, which still leaves the question of what range of CPUs are being discussed, if it is sub-25W or 90W+.

The collaboration between Intel, Tsinghua University and Montage is aimed to better address demands of Chinese state-owned and other datacenters. Since China is one of the world’s largest markets for servers, the importance of jointly working with local companies is something that is becoming very important not only for Intel, but for all developers of server CPUs, especially as news emerged last year about how Intel and others can or cannot sell to various entities. Intel has arrangements similar to this already in place, such as the Rockchip engagement for some smartphone-based SoCs to be made and sold by Rockchip in Asia, as well as arrangements with Spreadtrum (which is owned by Tsinghua Unigroup, to which Tsinghua University has sole investment).

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  • sseemaku - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Intel despite having dominant position in servers, partnering with another company seems more to impress Chinese government than to address its customers requirements. Qualcom is following similar path now. Reply
  • TeXWiller - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    They would take the most of the ways they can to extract value out of an export embargoed market. Of course the ever important relationship building, which the cultures of the area value, benefits the other commercial endeavors to come. Reply
  • Krysto - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    It's so those products can be backdoored for the Chinese population, while the American companies can still claim a pristine track record for protecting people's privacy and security.

    Microsoft is doing the same with Windows 10 in China. Same with Cisco, IBM, etc...It's not a coincidence they are all doing it.
    Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Nice conspiracy theory, but this is most likely (and realistically) an effort to dodge Chinese import tariffs, some of the highest in the world. Tesla is trying to build a factory in Shanghai for the same reason. Model S costs 30% more in China and the margins are razor thin for Tesla, just because of import duty's. Intel, and every other American company, is having the same problem competitively selling in China. Reply
  • iwod - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    You cant crack the Market in China without working with another Chinese Company.

    Just look at Tesla.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, January 28, 2016 - link

    How can you say that without knowing anything about the custom chips? Reply
  • webdoctors - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    I'm not familiar with chinese universities. Is it normal for universities to own companies and be running commercial enterprises?

    Should universities start doing that here, not just train engineers, doctors, etc. but become hospitals, engineering companies and law firms?
    Reply
  • Flunk - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    I think you may have just made it on the communist watch list ;). Reply
  • baii9 - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Universities in US is no different. NYU has one of the largest hospital network in NYC, and various universities have share (ofter not small)in all kind of start up and tech company. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - link

    Big Government, Big Business, and Big Education all combine for near limitless grant money (courtesy of taxpayers), limitless cheap labor (courtesy of desperate students that work for ramen), and limitless profits (for the White House cronies that get patents and tax exemptions). It's the perfect scam and is super effective. Reply

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