CPUs may revolutionize China
By Kaiser Kuo
BEIJING - A Hong Kong-based company that began as a comic-book publisher now
promises to revolutionize the Chinese personal-computer (PC) market with its
new, low-cost, Linux-based, Chinese-language central processing unit (CPU).
Culturecom Holdings Ltd says its new V-Dragon CPU, which retails for only
US$15-$30, will reduce the price of PCs and appliances by anywhere from 50-70
percent, mostly by eliminating costly intellectual-property (IP) fees charged
by "Wintel" - Microsoft and Intel - for their operating systems and CPUs.
Co-developed by IBM and based on the Midori Linux operating system, the new
V-Dragon architecture aims specifically for the Greater China market with an
embedded dynamic Chinese character-generating engine, allowing direct use of
32,000 Chinese characters without additional font sets or Chinese language
"The V-Dragon is not only the first Chinese CPU, itís also the first
Linux-based CPU," Culturecom senior vice president Benjamin Lau told Asia Times
Online. "Midori Linux is a flexible OS [operating system], and it's the only
Linux OS whose design team was led by [Linux creator] Linus Torvalds himself,"
Lau added. Culturecom acquired rights to Midori Linux from the US-base company
In the past year, the Chinese government has thrown its weight behind the
open-source Linux operating system out of concern that Microsoft and Intel have
formed a virtual cartel. Beijing has joined Tokyo and Seoul in exploring
development of open-source alternatives to the Windows operating system.
Culturecom made an abrupt expansion in business scope from the comic-book
publishing and distribution business to include information-technology (IT)
development in 1999. The company formed a joint venture with the Chinese
Academy of Sciences to co-develop RedOffice 2000, a Linux-based productivity
suite, and the product won a software supply contract from the Beijing
Leaving the Wintel environment means big savings
The move into hardware soon followed. "Getting out of the Wintel environment,
we can offer this CPU much, much cheaper. Not only do we avoid IP fees, but we
also reduce costs because many interfaces are already built into the chip," Lau
said in a telephone interview. "Chinese-made PCs aren't selling well
internationally because these costs prevent them from being competitive."
Lau said that Culturecom forecasts shipments this year of between 1.5 million
and 2 million units. Most are for intelligent appliances (IA) such as smart
digital video disc (DVD) players, or for special-purpose terminals such as the
tax terminals Chinese equipment vendor Datang is building, and for which it has
ordered 300,000 V-Dragon CPUs.
Critics have suggested that the Chinese CPU's speed is prohibitively slow, but
Lau disagrees. "The V-Dragon CPU offers speeds anywhere from 400 megahertz to
1.4 gigahertz," Lau told Asia Times Online. "For Datang's tax terminals, for
example, they only need 400MHz processors. Some of our customers want faster
CPUs, and we can meet that need."
In a market where PC penetration remains extremely low - 3.3 million PCs were
sold in 2003 in a country with a population of 1.3 billion - Culturecom is
hoping that its low-cost CPUs will help to bridge the gaping "digital divide".
Simple desktop computers powered by V-Dragon CPUs and sufficient to browse the
Internet would cost as little as $200.
"We can serve the mass population of China," said Lau. "The vast rural
population desperately needs access to affordable IT."
Kaiser Kuo is a freelance writer living in Beijing. He can be reached at