Chinese Firm Begins Making AMD Zen Based x86 CPUs
Samuel Wan / 2 years ago
AMD Chinese Joint Venture Turns EPYC into “Dhyana”
AMD and Intel are the two major players in x86. Due to the x86 and x86-64 patents, the two have a near duopoly over x86 CPU design. While rivals, the two companies have complex cross-licensing deals that allow them to use each other’s technology. In a surprising move, AMD is letting a Chinese firm sub-licence the x86 patents and make EPYC CPUs essentially based on their Zen architecture.
The root of the deal is due to a complex arrangement with Chinese firms. AMD needed cash in 2016 due to poor financials. China also wanted a secure supply of x86 chips and struck a deal. AMD would create a joint venture to licence x86 CPUs to another Chinese subsidiary which would “design” a new CPU. The joint venture then buys back the design to be made at a fab such as TSMC or UMC. While the deal was a known factor, the specifics are surprising as more IP is given up than expected.
Deal Grants China Access to AMD Zen IP
The joint venture is Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co Ltd with two subsidiaries, Haiguang Microelectronics Co. Ltd (HMC) and Chengdu Haiguang Integrated Circuit Design Co, Ltd (Hygon). AMD owns 51% of HMC and 30% of Hygon. Based on the various deals, the joint venture can only sell the chips in Chinese. The firms are using Zen, with customization made for the Chinese market. Dhyana is the name of the SoC end product.
Due to US government restrictions on Xeon’s, AMD appears to be the go-to source for enterprise CPUs. With this joint venture, the company should secure an even strong lead in China. No doubt, the Chinese are happy to get a CPU they can vet for backdoors as well as glean more American IP. Along with Chinese investments in VIA, the holdout x86 patent holder, it will be interesting to see what China will do with their new found x86 windfall. Furthermore, given the looming trade war some blame on Chinese IP theft, the future of this deal is uncertain.