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Coming soon: India microprocessor

Posted: 21 Jul 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:India design  microprocessor  processor 

The Indian government reportedly plans to bring together top engineers to design what is tentatively being called the "India microprocessor."

One of the design programme's goals is helping to ward off what the government sees as the growing security threat poised by using commercial microprocessors in military, telecommunications and space systems.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the MPU design will be overseen by a new entity called the Zerone Corp., with an initial government investment of 20 crore ($200 million).

Engineers from various Indian research and technical institutes will work together on the chip design project, which will be managed by the federal Department of Information Technology.

The report, quoting unnamed sources, said a draft proposal will be presented soon to cabinet ministers seeking project funding. The report also said that a proposal mentioned that "unless India has its own microprocessor, we can never ensure that networks [and weapons] are not compromised."

Designers will likely adopt Sun Microsystems' OpenSparc processor design technology (the open-source version of Sun's UltraSPARC T1 and T2 microprocessors) along with the Linux OS and MySQL open-source database software. The government is also reportedly concerned about future availability of foreign chip technologies. That concern prompted it to set up Zerone, which is looking to recruit 400 designers.

Poornima Shenoy, president of the India Semiconductor Association, said national security concerns dictate the need for a homegrown chip design. "It will also catalyze the local industry built around design activities," Shenoy said.

A senior chip industry executive here familiar with government programmes told EE Times that the government's plan was flawed. "It is a mere regurgitation of old plans that went nowhere. When Intel x86 technology and Sun's Sparc technology were offered to the respective government departments in the past, they [did] not even bother to reply," he said.

"Why can't we get x86 technology and design it? Or get an ARM core and design around it? You do not need 20 crore ($200 million) to design a chip. A few engineers from a local company like Wipro can design one. How will a government department keep a processor technology alive and support it. Nothing will come out of this programme, just as nothing came out of such plans in the past," the executive said.

India's chip design industry focuses heavily on captive chip designs for overseas customers. Hence, these companies have no claim on intellectual property developed during the design process.

Earlier Indian chip initiatives fizzled. The so-called "Fab City" planned in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad to house private wafer fabs has largely switched over to solar energy projects.

The report said Zerone's revenues would come from microprocessor sales and support along with providing training for future chip designers. India also lacks a major chip foundry. The report did not address whether the government would use an overseas foundry to fabricate the projected microprocessor.

Learn about hardware, embedded software and enabling technologies Made in India here.





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