UK Sanctions Russian Microprocessor Makers, Banning them from ARM
The UK government added 63 Russian entities to its sanction list on Wednesday. Among them are Baikal Electronics and MCST (Moscow Center of SPARC Technologies), the two most important chip makers in Russia.
The two sanctioned entities will now be denied access to the ARM architecture since Arm Ltd., the licensee, is based in Cambridge, England, and will have to comply with the sanctions.
Hitting outdated entities
The restrictive measures imposed on Baikal and MCST were justified by the UK government as follows:
“The purpose of this provision is to encourage Russia to cease actions destabilizing Ukraine or undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty or independence of Ukraine.”
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The two firms are considered vital for Russia’s technological independence efforts, as they are expected to step up and cover the shortages created by the lack of processors made by Western chip-makers such as Intel and AMD.
At this time, the most advanced processors the two have to offer are:
- Baikal BE-M1000 (28nm), a 35 Watt using eight ARM Cortex A57 cores clocked at 1.5 GHz and an ARM Mali-T628 GPU clocked at 750 MHz.
- Baikal BE-S1000 (16nm), a 120 Watt processor featuring 48 ARM cores clocked at 2.0 GHz
- MCST Elbrus-8C (28nm), a 70 Watt processor featuring eight cores clocked at 1.3 GHz
- MCST Elbrus-16S (28nm), a 16-core processor clocked at 2.0 GHz, capable of 1.5 TFLOP calculations, which is a tenth of what an Xbox Series X can achieve.
Russian companies and organizations that have tested these chips in demanding applications report that they cannot compete against industry-standard offerings, some even calling them unacceptable.
While these processors, and the much worse mid-tier and low-tier chips that carry the Baikal and MCST sticker, don’t feature impressive performance, they could keep some vital parts of the Russian IT section going during shortages.
In fact, MCST recently boasted it’s successfully filling the gap created in the national market, “rushing to the rescue” of Russian businesses and critical organizations.
Impact of sanctions
It’s easy to dismiss the applicability and impact of the UK’s sanctions considering that Russia has shown before that it’s willing to ease licensing regulations to lessen the effects of Western-imposed restrictions.
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However, it is important to remember that Baikal and MCST processors are made in foreign foundries, like Samsung’s and TSMC’s, and those two wouldn’t infringe Arm’s licensing rules and international law to facilitate Russian interests.
Baikal, which holds a valid license to produce at 16nm, only has a design license for its upcoming models, not manufacturing, so the only solution is to take the production domestically and ignore the rules.
This is another big problem, though, as chip production in Russia is entirely obsolete, currently capable of producing in the 90nm node process. That’s the same tech that NVIDIA used for its GeForce 7000-series cards in 2006.
The Russian government has already approved an investment of 3.19 trillion rubles (38.2 billion USD) to counteract this in April 2022, but boosting local production will take many years. In the most optimistic scenarios, Russian foundries will be able to produce 28nm chips by 2030.