The Russian motherboard for PCs replaces AMD or Intel processors with a Zhaoxin chip. It does work, but it goes back a decade with its performance.
After the invasion of Ukraine, various sanctions were imposed on Russia for aggression, which deprives it of access to Western technologies, so it does not receive PC processors from Intel and AMD. It seems that the local economy could reach for the only direct replacement available today, the Chinese Zhaoxin processors. A desktop motherboard has already appeared on which computers with these CPUs, compatible with classic Windows and applications, could be built in Russia.
Zhaoxin is a Chinese company operating in Shanghai, created mainly from Chinese capital and a minority from the participation of the Taiwanese company VIA, which supplied the technology. The Zhaoxin processors are thus the successors to the VIA x86 processors, which in turn followed the IDT WinChip and Cyrix processors from the 1990s. Because the company is mostly Chinese and operating in mainland China, it will probably be easier to get these processors to Russia without being blocked somewhere.
Tip: 20 years behind the West. The Russian government wants to invest billions of rubles in an already obsolete 28nm production process
Zhaoxins are fully compatible with the x86 instruction set, so they allow Windows and programs to run and can normally be used as a replacement for AMD / Intel PC processors. However, the disadvantage is in the performance, in which they can be described as relatively obsolete. This is probably also why they do not appear much on the market, in the West computers with them do not appear at all and in China, it seems to be quite a marginal thing, so these PCs are probably sold mainly to the authorities due to the requirement to use local technology. Embedded products can be found in Europe, and one of the exceptions was the QNAP NAS available in the Czech Republic with the Zhaoxin processor, which was probably caused by the chip crisis, when the company had trouble finding Intel and AMD processors that it would probably prefer.
Dannie MBX-Z60A: Zhaoxins for Russian Computers
However, a mATX desktop board called MBX-Z60A, which is based on the Zhaoxin KaiXian KX-6640MA processor, which is a 16nm processor with the latest architecture of the Chinese manufacturer, has now appeared on the Russian market. It is marked LuJiaZui and the Chips and Cheese website last year brought its analysis and test (the first part here and the second here). According to that, it is not very powerful for today’s conditions, although it brought higher frequencies than the previous 28nm VIA and Zhaoxin processors. The most powerful architecture developed by VIA and its subsidiary Centaur, called CNS, has not yet been included in Zhaoxin’s offer.
This record is produced by Dannie, which should perhaps be a Russian-Chinese company, or a Chinese company with a Russian branch, which is to be part of Russia’s efforts to replace technological imports (but it is probably still largely an import, only from China).
The board has the classic mATX size and ATX power supply. It has two slots for standard memory DDR4-2133 / 2400/3200, two PCIe 3.0 × 16 slots for expansion cards (however, these may have fewer lines connected), two M.2 slots for Wi-Fi and SSD (one type 2230 and one 2280 for long SSD modules) and two more ports for SATA drives. It can therefore be used for completely classic PC assemblies with common components. The direct board provides Gigabit Ethernet, integrated audio, USB 3.0 and HDMI, DisplayPort, HDMI and D-Sub video outputs from the integrated graphics that is in the processor.
Although the articles about the board write about an eight-core processor, the quoted and shown in the photo Zhaoxin KaiXian KX-6640MA should be only a quad-core at 2.1-2.7 GHz (base / boost). The advantage is that it has a fairly low TDP, which should reportedly be only 25 W, however, the single-fiber power will still be quite small for today’s conditions. But the four cores catch up with multi-threaded performance, but we’re still talking about a slower CPU – performance in Geekbench 5 is only about 350 points in single-threaded and 1100 points in multi-threaded score.
This is somewhere around the more than ten-year-old Athlon II X4 630 at 2.8 GHz. It is possible that a more powerful version will actually be in production with an eight-core CPU (for example KX-U6870A), because perhaps the PCB should be compatible with them as well. The octahedron would improve multi-threaded performance to about 2200 points in Geekbench 5, which is about the performance of two AMD Zen cores at around 3.75 GHz.
This probably illustrates where the problem of such Western export substitution is. Although these processors will meet the requirement that it is possible to build a fully compatible PC with Windows, they lag far behind today’s standard in performance. With enough RAM and SSD, the less demanding user will be able to use it normally, but would run into really demanding tasks. If such computer technology were to rule in Russia, it is not unlike the situation in Russia in the automotive industry, which, in turn, seems to produce vehicles that are technologically comparable to cars made in the world several decades earlier.
This hardware will probably be aimed mainly at Russian state institutions or companies. It is conceivable that consumers would rather try to buy used computers or components from the West. Dannie reportedly states that she can produce “tens of thousands of” these records a month, but we will probably see in time whether the Zhaoxin platform will really start to be used massively due to sanctions.
Chinese CPU exports to Russia just unofficially?
Interestingly, however, Zhaoxin itself does not fully support this product “for Russia.” The company issued a statement (received by Tom’s Hardware after Dannie wrote about the record), in which it confirmed that it was focusing purely on the local Chinese market and was not interested in others. This is something that has been seen in the company’s policy before, when, as already mentioned, Zhaoxin processors were not available outside of China. Therefore, even this Dannie board may be a bit of a gray export in the sense that Zhaoxin sells processors in China, but it does not directly care that they are secondarily sold abroad, and it does not support such exports and sales abroad.
It is possible that this policy was previously chosen because the company wanted to avoid patent litigation. Intel could probably question Zhaoxin’s right to make x86 processors, as it is not known whether VIA has extended its license, which was valid until 2018. In addition, Intel would not have to accept the transfer of this license from VIA to Zhaoxin.
But now add to that complication is that Zhaoxin might be subject to secondary sanctions on its own. As a Chinese company, it is not bound by US or EU sanctions, but if it has US trading partners, they may be bound by them and end their cooperation if it is assessed that Zhaoxin is supplying “forbidden” technologies to Russia. Interestingly, Zhaoxin in his statement mentions how he allegedly emphasized this intention to sell only in China to his partners, which is a possible attempt to officially distance himself from the threatening activities of other companies in Russia.
Sources: Hornbeam, Tom’s Hardware