The Institute of Software at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (ISCAS) is working to build 2,000 laptops using the free and open-source RISC-V instruction set architecture by the end of next year, as the nation looks to reduce its reliance on foreign technology giants like Arm and Intel.
First developed at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2010, RISC-V is an open-source alternative to proprietary processor architectures including Arm and x86. Anyone is free to build chips based on RISC-V, which can themselves be open or closed source, and anyone can modify or extend the architecture as they see fit.
Those freedoms have been of particular interest to China since former US president Donald Trump launched a trade war in 2018 which hit Chinese technology companies with punitive tariffs and outright trade embargoes – including the potential for companies like Huawei to be cut off entirely from the Arm and Intel intellectual property that powers their devices.
The solution: take something like RISC-V and bring the technology in-house, and that's exactly what the nation is doing – starting, but not ending, with Huawei and Alibaba.