Russian outlet today is reporting that the conglomerate Rostec, a Russian state-backed corporation specializing in investment in technology, has penned a deal with server company Yadro and silicon design company Syntacore to develop RISC-V processors for computers, laptops, and servers. Initial reports are suggesting that Syntacore will develop a powerful enough RISC-V design to power government and education systems by 2025.

The cost of the project is reported to be around 30 billion rubles ($400m), with that the organizers of the project plan to sell 60,000 systems based around new processors containing RISC-V cores as the main processing cores. The reports state that the goal is to build an 8-core processor, running at 2 GHz, using a 12-nanometer process, which presumably means GlobalFoundries but at this point it is unclear. Out of the project funding, two-thirds will be provided by ‘anchor customers’ (such as Rostec and subsidiaries), while the final third will come from the federal budget. The systems these processors will go into will operate initially at Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science, as well as the Ministry of Health.

Syntacore already develops its own core with the RISC-V architecture, rather than licensing a design. There have been questions as to whether any current RISC-V design is powerful enough to be used in a day-to-day work machine suitable for administrative services, however with the recent news that Canonical is enabling Ubuntu/Linux on some of SiFive’s RISC-V designs, chances are that by 2025 there will be a sufficient number of software options to choose from should the Russian processor adhere to any specifications required. That being said, it is not uncommon for non-standard processors in places like Russia or China to use older customized forks of Linux to suit the needs of the businesses using the hardware. Syntacore's documentation states that their highest performance 64-bit core already supports Linux.

Syntacore's latest design

This news is an interesting development given that Russia has multiple home-grown CPU prospects in the works already, such as the Elbrus 2000 family of processors that run a custom VLIW instruction set with binary translation for Intel x86 and x86-64; these processors already offer 8-core and multi-socket systems running on Linux. Development on Elbrus is still ongoing with Rostec in the mix, and the project seems focused on high-powered implementations in desktop to server use. In contrast, the new RISC-V development seems to be targeting low-powered implementations for desktop and laptop use. Russia also has Baikal processors using the MIPS32 ISA, built by a Russian supercomputer company.

It will be interesting to see how this story develops: $400m should be sufficient to build a processor and instruct system design at this level, which puts the question on how well the project will execute.

Sources: @torgeek,

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  • ilt24 - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    They are going to spend $400M on a plan to sell 60K systems? $400M / 60K = $6.7K seems to me they need to sell 50 times as many systems for it to make any kind of financial sense especially if the $400M is just the development costs after which they are going to have to pay a foundry to produce it.
  • Desierz - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    They are probably more afraid of US CPUs having 'spying functionality' built in than the price.
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    Agree that this is the most likely reason. Also, the 60000 is a minimum number, not the ceiling.
  • at_clucks - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    And includes R&D. But having the bonus that they are no longer reliant on technology sourced from their adversaries is probably priceless from Russia's perspective. This eliminates an avenue for spying but mainly it helps avoid Huawei like situations where the US leverages any kind of "spying concerns" to limit access to such critical technology. Nobody can have superpower aspirations while still being reliant on tech from other adversarial superpower.
  • Wereweeb - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    No one can be independent while reliant on tech from an imperialist or expansionist nation*

    All in all this is good news for everyone, if it means more development of Linux for RISC-V.
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    And how trustworthy is Linux? The OpenBSD team doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of it and there is the issue of Torvalds and others being subject to US oversight, which can include orders from secret courts.
  • mode_13h - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    > there is the issue of Torvalds and others being subject to US oversight,
    > which can include orders from secret courts.

    You're confusing two different things. Companies can get orders to hand over records or place a wiretap, via FISA courts. However, it doesn't logically follow that the government can compel a company to backdoor a product.

    The FBI famously tried to make Apple unlock an iPhone, which they fought in court. They argued this essentially compelled them to hack their own product, which the government had no legal basis to do. After another security firm approached the FBI with the offer of assistance, the US government dropped the case. Legal experts speculated this was because they expected to lose, since the government really would've liked to set a precedent the other way.

    There's also Linux' procedures around code reviews and subsequent merging of patches. This involves numerous people, some of whom you can bet wouldn't play along.

    Finally, there's continual static analysis (and other sorts of testing) of Linux sources, by several parties.

    So, it's unlikely the US government could push a backdoor into Linux, by force. They'd have a better chance of success trying to hide it in a set of legitimate patches, although even that wouldn't have a terribly high chance of success. And if they did manage to get it in, at least Russia would be able to review the patches for themselves.
  • Oxford Guy - Wednesday, July 14, 2021 - link

    The Apple incident was a dog and pony show. Apple products are among the most aggressive spyware products in existence.

    The fact that the government concluded it could crack the product was the expected outcome. The point is to both cow the consumer (the savvy ones) and delude the rest into thinking megacorporations and government aren’t synonymous.

    It’s the height of hilarity to read comments that take what these entities claim at face value.
  • kaidenshi - Thursday, July 15, 2021 - link

    @Oxford Guy:
    "Apple products are among the most aggressive spyware products in existence."

    Can you cite sources for that? I'm asking because to my knowledge several cybersecurity experts and quite a few OpenBSD developers use Apple hardware specifically because they believe it to be less likely to spy on them than Android and Windows based devices, as well as much more difficult to compromise by a bad actor.
  • mode_13h - Friday, July 16, 2021 - link

    > Can you cite sources for that?

    He won't because he can't. He just hates Apple and lashes out at them every time he gets a chance.

    I don't like Apple either, but I'm not going to posture and lie just to grind that axe.

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