STMicroelectronics to Sell Loongson Processor

STMicroelectronics NV signed a five-year agreement with the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Computing Technology (ICT) to sell China's homegrown Loongson processor in markets around the world, the company said Wednesday.

The first chip to be offered by STMicroelectronics under the agreement will be ICT's Loongson-2E, a 1GHz processor that is manufactured using a 90-nanometer process. In a statement, STMicroelectronics said the Loongson chips, also called Godson, offer "impressive performance and low power" that are suitable to a range of electronics applications.

The company did not provide details of those applications.

ICT previously relied on a spin-off company, BLX IC Design Co. Ltd., to market the Loongson chips to customers, but its efforts have yet to yield much in the way of contracts. ICT did not immediately respond to e-mail questions concerning the agreement with STMicroelectronics and its effect on the relationship with BLX.

However, the agreement is likely to put some muscle behind ongoing efforts to promote Loongson as a viable processor option, thanks to STMicroelectronics' larger size -- the company is one of the ten largest chip makers in the world -- and established relationships with device makers around the world.

Billed as offering the same performance as Pentium III and Pentium 4 processors, the Loongson processor family has struggled to get traction in the market, partly because the chips do not use the x86 instruction set used in chips from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

Instead, the Loongson chips use an instruction set based on MIPS, which is not able to run the full version of Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system and other software commonly used on PCs.

Even so, the Loongson processor has been pitched for computers running the Linux operating system. But these systems have not made significant inroads into China's fast-growing PC market.

The Loongson's instruction set has been the source of contention between ICT and MIPS Technologies Inc., which licenses out patented instructions contained in the MIPS instruction set. In an effort to diffuse this tension, ICT agreed in 2005 to stop referring to the Loongson chips as MIPS-compatible processors, but talks between the two parties failed to yield a licensing agreement despite years of discussions.

Despite this impasse, STMicroelectronics has signed a licensing agreement with MIPS Technologies for the MIPS64 architecture as part of plans to sell the Loongson chips around the world.

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