back to article All-Russian 'Elbrus' PCs and servers go on sale

Russia's Moscow Center of SPARC Technologies has started taking orders for PCs and servers using locally-developed “Elbrus 4c” CPUs. It's unclear if the new products have been ordered by the Kremlin, which last year responded to the many Snowden revelations by declaring it would create its own ARM chippery to stop the NSA …

  1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    15 years later, Elbrus finally delivers. Well, I'll be a monkey's uncle.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Unfortunately, it appears to be delivering the performance that was promised 15 years - I am pretty sure I remember it was targeted at 800 MHz...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Question is: will it SPARC any interest? Europe already seems well ARMed with other architectures, so why take the RISC?

      They'll either MIPS their sales targets or just not bother. Anyway, I'll get out of here before some Alpha male comes 'ound and DECs me one, or lights a fire and starts a MicroBlaze.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        @ Stuart Longland

        Question is: will it SPARC any interest?

        It does not need to. It is more than sufficient to supply with non-embargo compute the parts of their industry which are subject to a western embargo: energy sector, military, etc.

        Europe already seems well ARMed with other architectures, so why take the RISC? IPR can be embargoed too.

        They'll either MIPS their sales targets or just not bother If this was two years ago - I would have said the same. Today, not so sure. I would not be surprised to see a mandatory school and education use mandate. That is a few million units on its own.

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Childcatcher

          Re: @ Stuart Longland

          Today, not so sure. I would not be surprised to see a mandatory school and education use mandate. That is a few million units on its own.

          They have created the Volga of the computing world. It only "works" if you have a captive market. Perhaps they should code name the next chipset in development Чёрная Молния (Black Lightning).

          It's also said to be capable of x86 emulation, and to run Linux natively, after one performs binary translation.

          Sorry, the first thing that got stuck in my head was "What? They need to be rewritten using Cyrillic?"

          1. streaky Silver badge

            Re: @ Stuart Longland

            Perhaps they should code name the next chipset in development Чёрная Молния (Black Lightning)

            Pretty sure you mean Cocainum.

        2. John Savard Silver badge

          Re: @ Stuart Longland

          Well, there is an awful lot of stuff that can be done perfectly well with a 60 MHz Pentium - or even a 40 MHz 486. So the fact that it's even slower in terms of clock rate than the 1 GHz chip in my cell phone doesn't make it useless; given their current aggression in the Ukraine, Western sanctions against them are likely to increase in severity. So having their own x86 capability in some form obviously meets a real need.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      At least there's no risk of Skynet developing accidentally in some Russian government lab.

  2. oldtaku
    Trollface

    'all Russian'

    Well, I guess it's all Russian if you consider variations of western stuff with some mods to be all Russian.

    Cue the Russian Comment Brigade on how the PDP-11 was actually copied from the Elektronika K180 series instead of the other way around.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Pint

    The feel when ... the 90s happen again!

    There are venerable systems in that line and frankly I commend the effort.

    It's like you are really getting the Sun kit that you wanted in an earlier life.

  4. MacroRodent Silver badge

    Will the real instruction set please stand up?

    The Elbrus 4c used in the PCs and servers is said to support two instruction sets: very long instruction word and SPARC. It's also said to be capable of x86 emulation, and to run Linux natively, after one performs binary translation.

    This is confusing... what is the real instruction set in it, homegrown, SPARC, x86 or ARM? After googling links for Elbrus 4c (hampered by my lack of Russian skillz), the most likely answer seems the homegrown VLIW, with some emulation support for x86. Sounds just like the plan that worked so splendidly for Intel Itanium... The native VLIW code might not be too slow, despite the low clock speed, provided there is a good compiler, but then all software has to be ported, so it is likely most users (if any...) will use it as a slow x86 replacement.

    Elbrus by the way seems to also have been the name for a line of Soviet mainframes.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Will the real instruction set please stand up?

        ... and when they do get them up to a reasonable speed, they won't be paying the running-dog capitalist lackeys for their IT.

        Bear in mind that in the West we now consolidate most workloads because we don't need all the power of our CPUs for a single job - their kit might be slower, but it may meet the price/performance criteria. The Russians may rather spend a little more on internally-produced electricity than send hard-earned foreign exchange abroad to buy Americans products.

        That makes sense to me. I fail to understand why No. 10 is so in love with US IT companies, when all they do is suck money from our economy.

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Will the real instruction set please stand up?

          I fail to understand why No. 10 is so in love with US IT companies, when all they do is suck money from our economy.

          Probably a couple of reasons...

          1) GCHQ and NSA have a <cough> gentlemen's agreement. Probably No. 10 doesn't have an arrangement with the Russians.

          2) Devil you know... the NSA backdoor in the equipment. Devil you don't know... the Russian backdoor.

          3) History is not in the Russian's favor with the west.

          If the US is sucking your IT money, where's your industry then? This not something that can be forced...

    2. thames

      Re: Will the real instruction set please stand up?

      According to Wikipedia, this is either the same organization as made the mainframes or a descendent of it. They made several lines of computers. The originals had some similarities to Borroughs mainframes, but they were independent designs, not copies. In the 1980s, they switched to a VLIW architecture. This current chip seems to be a descendent of that.

      They also made a separate line of products using the SPARC architecture. Something that isn't clear is whether this new chip somehow incorporates the SPARC instruction set as well as the Elbrus VLIW one, or whether that is just garbled reporting mixing up the two product lines. I suspect it's the latter.

      Their chips are (according to Wikipedia) used in the "space program, nuclear weapons research, and defence systems". Now you know why the Russians use them. The Americans won't sell chips to them for use on those markets.

      The model of chip that comes out this year is the 8S, which is 8 cores, 1.3 GHz, and built on 28 nm. It sounds pretty respectable even by today's standards.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And there's always the perennial question: Will it run Crysis or something more recent?

    Judging from the specs, I'd say, "Not very well...if at all."

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      No, but you'll be able to use its browser to order a computer that can.

  6. thames

    That's not the point

    "If MCST's promise of compatibility with other operating systems and code written for them is accurate, "

    It can run Linux. That's all they need. They're not going to run Windows commercially since running Windows and associated software would just defeat the whole purpose of the project, which is an independent technology base.

    "its conceivable Russian outfits worried about NSA backdoors in Intel and AMD kit have themselves a platform on which to get some decent work done."

    The US restricts what models of Intel and AMD CPUs can be exported to various countries for various purposes. With the Elbrus, the Russians can ignore the American "chip blockade" and do whatever they want. This is the same reason the Chinese are building their own CPUs based on MIPs designs.

    "Running complex workloads looks rather less likely."

    Eh? It should run pretty much any open source software plus whatever Russian proprietary software they decide to port to it. The exceptions which may be problematic are ones like Java or C#, since those would require writing code generators for the JIT compilers, which may not be worth the effort. Anything written using anything else, C, C++, Fortran, Python, Ruby, PHP, etc. should not be a big deal.

    All the American proprietary vendors would be given the boot from government installations, so the fact that their software isn't "supported" on an Elbrus chip is irrelevant. If "complex workload" is code for "American proprietary vendor who buys me pints at trade shows", well getting rid of them is the whole point.

    Really, the only issue here is to what extent the Russian government is actually interested in Elbrus chips and to what extent it's just PR from MCST talking up the sales potential. There was another Russian company who not too long ago was saying they were going after the same market using 64 bit ARM server chips. Only one of these at most is going to get the nod.

    The video linked to in the story seems to be from some blogger, not from either MCST or the Russian government. He's used some video from Elbrus and added his own commentary. God knows to what degree it reflects reality.

    1. PleebSmash

      Re: That's not the point

      The US restricts what models of Intel and AMD CPUs can be exported to various countries for various purposes. With the Elbrus, the Russians can ignore the American "chip blockade" and do whatever they want. This is the same reason the Chinese are building their own CPUs based on MIPs designs.

      Russian supercomputers will continue to use American chips:

      http://top500.org/site/50104 http://top500.org/site/50548

      There is no chip blockade for most, and 65nm 800 MHz chips aren't going to cut it for most users (supercomputers, military, or even school laptops).

      I expect we will hear more about the Chinese blockade by June.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  7. Tom 64

    A decent market

    Especially if the Russian government dictates that all government departments buy all Russian!

    In soviet Russia, market eats you! err wait...

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: A decent market

      Don't think it's a commie thing: America has had that in law since the Buy American Act of 1933, later strengthened in specific areas by laws such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 and the Surface Transportation Assistance Act 1982.

      They specify that the government needs to make all purchases from American companies by preference, even if they are more expensive. Only if no American company can be found to supply the required item can they consider importing from another country. It's a blatant form of protectionism.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A decent market

        It may be protectionism, but in at least some areas it's a justifiable form of protectionism since the government is innately involved in State Secrets. Outsourcing inevitably raises the espionage risk.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A decent market

          "Outsourcing inevitably raises the espionage risk."

          There is that. But the Yanks having all but confirmed that theory, they invite the Russians and Chinese to conclude that no US companies or technology can be trusted. So, the NSA have worked diligently to freeze US corporations out of the half of the world that don't get on with the US. Go team NSA!

          Meanwhile, the Europeans continue to play nicely with Uncle Sam, happily paying extortionate sums for the "services" of untrustworthy US IT and BPO corporations, and (because that's not enough) then letting their own intelligence agencies hand over all and any data the US ask for, including commercial secrets, citizens personal data, and head of state phone calls.

          The answer would appear to be "Europeans", in which case the question must be "who's the patsy?"

          1. DougS Silver badge

            @Ledswinger

            But the Yanks having all but confirmed that theory, they invite the Russians and Chinese to conclude that no US companies or technology can be trusted. So, the NSA have worked diligently to freeze US corporations out of the half of the world that don't get on with the US

            ...

            They didn't "invite" this, they were just foolhardy enough that to think that they could keep their activities a secret or at least a tinfoil hat level theory. Edward Snowden showed them the error of their ways - this is why there's so much outrage directed at him. They don't care about most of their secrets, but the extent of the cooperation (if you can call it that when it was done under implied threat) from US corporations to the NSA's spying was something they really believed they could keep under wraps. If Snowden hadn't blown the whistle, all it would have taken would be for a couple highly placed people in companies like Cisco to risk the possible consequences of disclosure.

            The thing is, China surely does this to an even larger extent given their political and economic structure. Like the US, they surely spy on their friends as well as their enemies. China signed a "no spying" agreement with Russia that presumably gives Putin a way to buy gear from China instead of the US but probably guarantees him and his cronies kickbacks which is the real reason behind it all. Most counties in the world, whether they are more friendly to the US or more friendly to China, don't want to be spied on by either. If I were them I'd use a mixture of equipment from both, so neither could easily get the full picture (i.e. if you can walk through "your" firewall you gotta hack your way through the other guy's firewall behind it)

  8. DainB Bronze badge

    $3500 for a desktop version

    If you believe Russian news sites

  9. Jess

    The processing power is irrelevant.

    The majority of the work these things will do would be the same as that done on current machines with windows 7, and in the past on Pentium 2 machines with XP and before that 486 machines with Windows 95. (Prior to that on DOS and CP/M).

    You just don't put on all the bells and whistles that aren't needed.

    Anything that needs more power would stay on the current hardware, until the local stuff catches up.

  10. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    So in Russia ....

    2015 will finally be the year of the Linux desktop?

    Sorry, even as a long term Linux user, I just couldn't resist.

  11. MCG

    Okay... no NSA backdoors. But what about FSB ones?

  12. naive

    At least they do something about it, instead of just whining

    Even 65nm and 800MHz seem better then to just whine about those nasty US guys spying on us with their gear riddled with back doors, and do nothing about it. An Android compatibility layer would make sense, so there are more apps, now they have the issue of lacking x86/Windows binary compatibility at the same time.

    See how it works out, it would have been easier for them to have acquired AMD licenses a few years ago and build on that.

  13. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nobody considered world war?

      You don't think the US military are aware of the threat of EMP and have taken steps to harden them against that? And if an EMP can be made that can overwhelm any electronics known to man, hardened or not, credits to milos the US military has the capability, too, which renders any homegrown technology built by any adversarial power moot; it's just as vulnerable as the American tech.

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