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Russia’s Elbrus And The Custom Silicon Future

Anandtech’s Dr. Ian Cutress, aka the Chip Whisperer, recently published a look at the custom Elbrus VLIW design that’s been used in Russian computers for years. Documentation on this architecture has been scarce, given that it was hard to get hands-on time with a system outside of Russia. But recently published online documentation spreads some new light.

The design seems to have its roots in the SPARC architecture, and uses a compiler-focused design, meaning optimizations are at the compiler, rather than silicon level. I trust Dr. Cutress knows far more than I’ll ever know about chip design, but given it’s VLIW approach, x86 binary translation, and compiler optimizations, it also sounds a lot like the approach to chip design Transmeta used many years ago.

As trade tensions create uncertainty with supply chains, it appears these state-sponsored chip designs may become increasingly common. While not a full custom solution, we’ve already seen China partner (through a bizarre series of subsidiaries) with AMD on the x86-based Hygon Dhyana chips. The combination of a lack of documentation, investment of state dollars, and the ability to design and program against a specific piece of silicon might have some distinct advantages for state organizations. As a fan of open ecosystems and documentation, I can’t say that I’m thrilled by this direction. But clearly we’re seeing a trend to custom silicon.

Read more at AnandTech Russia’s Elbrus 8CB Microarchitecture: 8-core VLIW on TSMC 28nm

About the author

Rich Stroffolino

Rich has been a tech enthusiast since he first used the speech simulator on a Magnavox Odyssey². Current areas of interest include ZFS, the false hopes of memristors, and the oral history of Transmeta.