Editing by William Zhang and Greg Gao
Arm China was in the news shortly before the China's week-long national holidays on September 26. It received the Science and Technology Achievement Award for its globally 1st architecture NPU Instruction Set Architecture at the annual World Internet Conference sponsored by the Chinese governmental departments in Wuzhen, eastern China's Zhejiang Province.
One month earlier in Beijing, Arm China staged a high-profile press conference, officially announcing the "two-wheel-drive" strategy and new business product brand, "Core Power" – the new "XPU" architecture to tackle with more diversified computing power requirements and multiple computing domains in the new digital era.
The announcement was controversial outside China in overseas social media, criticizing Arm China running independently of ARM headquarters. Softbank, the owner of Arm and 49% equity owner of Arm China, clarified its position. Its spokesperson told the U.S.-based The Register that "it is satisfied with the results produced by Arm China, and that it isn't too worried about the joint venture's strategy. Arm continues to have a successful working relationship with the Arm China team in support of this growth, and both the structure and ownership of the JV have remained unchanged since its inception in 2018."
Arm added," Arm has seen strong growth in our business as our global partners shipped more than 25 billion Arm-based chips in 2020. Of those 25 billion chips, more than three billion were shipped by our partners based in China."
Allen Wu, Executive Chairman and CEO of Arm China, explained the objective for the announced "two-wheeled drive" strategy and XPU product brand – "Core Power" (核心动力): They represent "ARM China's strategic determination to lead the intelligent computing industry development in China and promote upgrading computing architecture," he said.
For the "two-wheeled drive strategy", Arm China will continue to push for local adopting of Arm CPU instruction set architecture and expanding its ecosystem in China. It is learned that Arm China has a total of 800 employees across the country and there is a dedicated team for this line of business.
The other "wheel" of the strategy is to continue research and development of XPU-based products for the diversifying ecosystem with more customized solutions specifically for China market that is facing growing multiple computing demands. "We will actively build a win-win industrial ecosystem, empowering the industrial development in China," Wu said.
Technologies such as AI, 5G, and IoT, which are seeing fast growth in China, are generating massive data and diversified application scenarios, bringing "golden development opportunities for the intelligent computing in the country," Wu said.
Innovation in CPU architecture and IC process is slowing down, unable to meet more rapid diversified computing power in more scenarios. These developments are pushing computing power from CPU to NPU(Neural Network Processing Unit), ISP(Image Signal Processor), VPU(Video Processing Unit), GPU, and other computing units.
Since Arm China's start as a new joint venture, Wu said, the company has engaged in active local research and development in artificial intelligence, CPU, information security, ISP, and VPU areas. It launched a series of self-developed XPU products, including "Zhouyi" NPU, "Shanhai" SPU, "Linglong" ISP, and "Linglong" VPU – all named after Chinese literary words in Chinese – a popular practice with Chinese technology companies now.
Up to now, it has licensed more than 90 IP to local companies, and it expects its customers' shipments of products will reach over 100 million chips in 2021 yearend.
As NPU is taking up the critical role for next-generation intelligent computing, Arm China initiated Open NPU Innovation Alliance (ONIA) in July 2021 and some 50 leading semiconductor companies and institutions in China. The alliance intends to solve the problems in the segmenting of customized NPU and overlapped investment. It will also jointly incubate ten startups based on open source architecture and XPU with Arm China Accelerator.