The SPEC committee has removed the world record results of the Chinese Yintian 710 on the CPU 2017 benchmark, the industry benchmark for CPUs, from its rankings, citing availability issues. We were impressed when Alibaba unveiled his 128-core processor made on his N5 node at TSMC about a year ago. We were even more impressed when this CPU broke some records about five months ago. However, I was a little troubled by the limited availability of preview samples even in Alibaba’s cloud.
“SPEC has determined that this result does not comply with the SPEC OSG general availability guidelines and the SPEC CPU 2017 execution and reporting rules,” said a SPEC statement. “Specifically, the submitter notified SPEC that the requirements for general availability were not met.”
We don’t know if US restrictions on the Chinese semiconductor sector caused the lack of availability, but that could be the source of the problem.
Alibaba said Yitian 710 can reach 440 integer score in SPECint2017. similar To the performance of a 2-socket machine with Intel’s 32-core Xeon Platinum 8362 (64 cores at 2.80 GHz). This amazing score is said to have been achieved on hardware that was largely unavailable even to users of Alibaba’s cloud. The problem for Alibaba is that this level of performance is enough to meet new US export regulations.
The Yitian 710 server SoC contains approximately 60 billion transistors, making it one of the most complex processors ever developed. TSMC is working on one of the N5 (5nm class) production nodes targeted by US sanctions on China’s semiconductor and supercomputer sectors.
And while US sanctions on China’s semiconductor industry are well known, there is another wrinkle to the story. It’s yield. 60 billion transistor chips have poor yields, and a higher than normal percentage of the chips produced ends up in the trash. Alibaba indirectly confirmed that her SoC did not meet the desired specs when it offered a handful of selected companies to trial her underspecified SoC in its own cloud. Yield issues were probably the reason why we couldn’t source enough chips to deploy. The Yitian 710’s exclusion from his SPEC ranking appears to be due to lack of availability.