TSMC delivers its first batch of Russian-designed Arm chips


Why it matters: Russia’s Baikal Electronics received its first batch of Arm SoCs from TSMC this week. It was a major step towards the Russian government’s goal of a self-sufficient electronics industry.

Baikal’s new processor, its second ever, is called the BE-M1000. It’s an octa-core Arm design with a focus on connectivity. TSMC’s first production run yielded about 5,000 chips, which were shipped to Baikal inside one large and very expensive crate.

Although 5,000 processors don’t sound like enough to attract interest from the market, particularly from a company that hasn’t proven itself, Baikal claims to have already partnered with several system integrators to produce computers that will launch in a matter of months.

Chief among them is iRU, Russia’s largest domestic system integrator. It recently announced plans to start selling office computers based on the BE-M1000 in Q1 2022. The company’s line-up will include an Opal-branded series of laptops and small form factor PCs and an Agate-branded series of AIOs.

iRU says that they’ve already secured buyers, which include major government-contracted companies. As such, the computers will come preloaded with government-approved software, including the Linux-based Astra OS or Red OS, the Microsoft Office alternative My Office, and ViPNet SafeBoot security software.

Baikal expects to be receiving monthly shipments of 10,000 to 15,000 processors by the time iRU wants to sell its systems. Baikal had hoped to be at that stage already but got waylaid by the ongoing chip shortage. This week’s shipment was initially scheduled for four months ago, but despite the setbacks, Baikal Electronics’ CEO, Andrey Evdokimov, says that the company has handled the shortage well.

“We managed to adapt to the market conditions: we started working on organizing mass production almost two years ago and were able to book production lines in advance at fixed terms early on,” Evdokimov told Russian site CNews. “Thus, we entered the crisis prepared. Our good relationships with major international suppliers along the whole production line helped a lot, too.”

Baikal also benefitted from its design’s use of the 28nm node, which is under less strain than newer, more popular nodes.

The BE-M1000 contains eight Arm Cortex-A57 cores that operate at 1.5 GHz. It has a 4 MB L2 cache and an 8 MB L3 cache. It also has eight Mali-T628 GPU cores that target 700-750 MHz. It has a 30-35 W TDP, although it’s probably configurable.

The BE-M1000’s connectivity is more impressive than its performance. It has a dual-channel memory controller that supports up to 32 GB of DDR3 or DDR4 and 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes. It can also support six USB ports, two 10 Gb Ethernet ports, and two 1 Gb Ethernet ports.

According to CNews, which tested an engineering sample of the processor last year, it performs similarly to the Intel Core i3-7300T. Although that’s not an exciting performance bracket, it’s sufficient for the workloads that the processor targets and commendable from the perspective that Baikal has very little experience designing processors.

Masthead credit: Laura Ockel

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