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June 23, 2014

Russia to Develop Home-Grown Chips

Tiffany Trader

Russian officials want to replace US microprocessors from Intel and AMD with locally-grown parts. According to recent reports from local news services, the Russian government is planning to create its own line of microprocessors using 64-bit ARM chips for use in governmental computers and servers.

The new microprocessors will be designed by Baikal Electronics, a unit of supercomputing vendor T-Platforms, with funding from state-owned defense giant Rostec and tech-focused state-run venture capital firm Rusnano. The Baikal nomenclature was inspired by the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal, located in southern Siberia.

The project, worth tens of millions of dollars, is being managed by Russian’s Industry and Trade Ministry. In place of current chips from US companies, the Baikal line of processors will be built using ARM Holdings’ 64-bit Cortex-A57 design, which runs at 2 GHz. The first products, designated as Baikal M and M/S, will be manufactured using 28nm process technology. These 8-core variants are scheduled to debut early next year, with a more powerful 16-core server processor, based on 16-nm process technology, to follow in late 2016.

Russian news agency Kommersant noted that currently Russia does not have the capability to produce 28nm processors, and the project’s price tag, estimated at tens of millions of dollars, does not include the cost of production.

The new chips will power Linux-based personal computers and micro servers and will mainly be used by the defense industry and other government-aligned operations. According to ITAR-TASS, the Russian government purchases about 700,000 personal computers each year worth $500 million as well as 300,000 servers worth $800 million. The total market volume is estimated at 5 million devices worth $3.5 billion.

The fact that the chips are being targeted for government systems indicates the project is motivated by security concerns. However, if the processors are successful, their market share could spread to the Russian public sector, and even potentially outside Russia’s borders.

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