One of the most controversial high-tech projects in Chinese history took a respectable step forward this month, with the commercial release of an actual shipping PC based on the Loongson 2F processor.
And here she is, the 1800 RMB ($262 USD, 167 Euro) Fuloong Mini computer:
Over the past decade, researchers and engineers at the China Academy of Science has been given a budget in the tens-hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a commercially viable processor design, using only Chinese intellectual property. And although there have been numerous press releases about various technical feats, the simple fact of the matter was, you couldn’t actually find a commercial PC based on the Loongson. (See previous hype about the $150 Municator computer based on the Loongson-2E, which as far as I know never shipped.)
Combine with this the fact that a different processor project (汉芯, Hanxin) was found to have been a complete fake (the researcher actually purchased a Freescale DSP and ground off the markings on the packaging)… all in all, it’s been a difficult process. Many people have accused the entire Loongson project of being a white elephant, a waste of money with no hope of success. There have been a number of ghost product announcements and photoshopped images; many were skeptical a Loongson-2 based computer would ever be produced and sold in volume.
The product was officially announced available for online purchase on June 30th, but only a few days later, the press releases said the current run had been fully “sold out”. This raised huge doubts in the minds of many critics yet again, that the system simply didn’t exist. On the official forum ( 龙芯论坛), they quickly explained that they had only built 500 of these units in the initial run, and these were quickly bought by hobbyists and government groups. They will be putting together another build of 500-1000 units. iPhone, it ain’t.
In other words, I don’t think the critics will be fully satisfied yet. But nonetheless, the release of this system does represent a major milestone for the entire project, and home-grown Chinese technology in general.
Enough talk, more pictures:
Specs for the Fulong
– PROCESSOR: Loongson 2F CPU, 800-900 MHz, DDRII SDRAM controller;
– RAM: SO-DIMM DDR II, standard configuration is 512 MB DDR II;
– GRAPHICS: XGI V2 graphics controller, 32 MB internal RAM, VGA, DVI, S-Video output;
– HD: 80 GB Ultra ATA
– OS: Xinhua Rays 2.0 Linux distribution
Other features included USB, infrared port, sound, 1000Mbps Ethernet…
The Loongson 2 chips use a “MIPS64-like” instruction set, but for years refused to purchase an official license from MIPS, since in the eyes of some that ruined the point of a “domestic” processor. A few years ago, for commercial practicality, the fabless project turned to France-based STMicro for the actual production + packaging. STMicro purchased a licensed from MIPS, meaning we can today officially call the Loongson 2F a MIPS64 processor. Its performance has been compared to a Pentium 4.
What can you do with a system like this? Probably not general consumer PC usage. It’s probably most promising in embedded applications: kiosks, terminals, etc. Or, high volume office usage. (I also see no reason why it couldn’t host a WordPress-based blog site…) The closest equivalent currently available on the market is probably the French Linutop (190 Euros) or German Manuscriptum (600+ Euros).
UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to the Fuloong Mini – from the manufacturer Lemote