The number of developers of discrete GPUs shrank to two by the late 2000s as a result of a cut-throat competition between ATI Technologies (now part of AMD) and Nvidia.
In 2017, Intel announced its comeback to the market of standalone graphics cards and it looks like Apple might soon offer internally-developed high-performance desktop-class graphics too.
But apparently, there is one more player willing to join in the game — Zhaoxin, a CPU designer from China.
Zhaoxin, a joint venture between China-based Shanghai SASAC (that owns an 80% stake) and Taiwan-based Via Technologies (that controls a 20% stake), has been selling x86 processors aimed at the Chinese market for several years now.
The company’s top-of-the-range KaiXian KX-6000-series CPUs featuring eight in-house designed LuJiaZui cores and a dual-channel DDR4 memory controller are said to offer performance comparable to that of Intel’s 7th Generation Core i5, a quad-core non-Hyper-Threaded processor, though it is hard to get a proper confirmation to the claim.
In a video recently posted at its website, Zhaoxin revealed that it had a standalone graphics processor in its roadmap.
Due to be released in late 2020 or in 2021, the GPU will likely support a DirectX 11.1 or DirectX 12-level feature set, but the company does not elaborate. The chip will also have a TDP of up to 70 W, which is too high for laptops, but good-enough for small form-factor desktops.
Unlike the company’s KaiXian KX-6000-series CPUs that are made using TSMC’s 16 nm FinFET manufacturing technology, the GPU is to be produced using TSMC’s 28 nm planar fabrication process. The choice of the production technology seems a bit odd, but perhaps Zhaoxin wants to be able to contract TSMC’s rival SMIC to make its GPUs to cut costs and other reasons.
Given the process technology and a 70-W TDP of the upcoming GPU, it is unlikely that Zhaoxin’s standalone graphics processor will be able to compete against AMD and Nvidia on the market of high-end gaming graphics cards.
Meanwhile, there are markets beyond gaming that Zhaoxin might want to address with its discrete GPU, including high-performance computing.
If Zhaoxin indeed proceeds to the gaming market, one of the challenges that the company will inevitably face will be GPU-related patents. AMD and Nvidia hold vast graphics processing IP portfolios and both companies have been trying to monetize their patents in the recent years by licensing them to various parties, including those who buy graphics technologies from IP developers like Arm.
Via Technologies used to own a bunch of graphics patents it acquired with S3 Graphics in the early 2000s, but in 2011 the majority of those patents were sold to HTC, which happens to be controlled by the same person as Via Technologies.
Zhaoxin did not comment on the news story and we could not find out the company’s exact plans for its dGPU.