SHANGHAI, China It's a small step, but at least it's forward. Two hundred laptops powered by the locally designed Loongson CPU (aka Godson) will be released in February, and a handful of other small-scale projects are also underway that will modestly increase shipments of the chip.
The laptops won't hit retail shelves, but they will find eager users. Engineers at the Chinese Academy of Science will get half of the laptops, while the other half will go to companies affiliated with the academy.
The laptops are being made by the CAS-backed ZhongKe Menglan Electronics Technology Co., in Jiangsu Province, which hopes to eventually push the PCs into commercial volumes. They will include a Loongson 2E CPU running at 800MHz to 1GHz, with 512 Mbytes of DDR DRAM, a 40Gbyte hard drive and a Linux OS. Pricing remains unknown. The company is also testing desktops based on the Loongon 2E.
In 2002, government-backed BLX IC Design Corp. launched the Godson-1, a 32-bit, 266-MHz microprocessor. In early 2005, BLX released a 64-bit version of the CPU, running at 500 MHz, that they claim matches the performance of the Pentium 3. Since then the processor has been renamed to Loongson, and performance has steadily improved.
The chip has never been able to get firm traction in the market, however, despite claiming to have rallied local industry support around its architecture that extended to 60 companies, including Haier, a major manufacturer of appliances and consumer electronics. Because of the lower performance of its predecessor, the Loongson chip has mostly been used in less demanding embedded applications, such as DVD players and routers.
Sinomanic Co.,Ltd, based in Sichuan Province, is also testing Loongson-based laptops designed for students. Sinomanic uses the Loongson-1 CPU, good enough for Internet access and basic PC applications, such as using word processors or reading PDF files, the company said. A spokesperson declined to say when mass production would begin.
Later this year, Sinomanic is also planning to release Loongson 2E embedded PCs aimed at business users, as well as Loongson-based servers and a series of low-cost PCs for rural areas.