Jul 11

Loongson Lives: Release of Linux PC with Chinese processor

Written by Buxi on Friday, July 11th, 2008 at 6:26 am
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One of the most controversial high-tech projects in Chinese history took a respectable step forward this month, with the commercial release of an actual shipping PC based on the Loongson 2F processor.

And here she is, the 1800 RMB ($262 USD, 167 Euro) Fuloong Mini computer:

Over the past decade, researchers and engineers at the China Academy of Science has been given a budget in the tens-hundreds of millions of dollars to develop a commercially viable processor design, using only Chinese intellectual property. And although there have been numerous press releases about various technical feats, the simple fact of the matter was, you couldn’t actually find a commercial PC based on the Loongson. (See previous hype about the $150 Municator computer based on the Loongson-2E, which as far as I know never shipped.)

Combine with this the fact that a different processor project (汉芯, Hanxin) was found to have been a complete fake (the researcher actually purchased a Freescale DSP and ground off the markings on the packaging)… all in all, it’s been a difficult process. Many people have accused the entire Loongson project of being a white elephant, a waste of money with no hope of success. There have been a number of ghost product announcements and photoshopped images; many were skeptical a Loongson-2 based computer would ever be produced and sold in volume.

The product was officially announced available for online purchase on June 30th, but only a few days later, the press releases said the current run had been fully “sold out”. This raised huge doubts in the minds of many critics yet again, that the system simply didn’t exist. On the official forum ( 龙芯论坛), they quickly explained that they had only built 500 of these units in the initial run, and these were quickly bought by hobbyists and government groups. They will be putting together another build of 500-1000 units. iPhone, it ain’t.

In other words, I don’t think the critics will be fully satisfied yet. But nonetheless, the release of this system does represent a major milestone for the entire project, and home-grown Chinese technology in general.

Enough talk, more pictures:

Specs for the Fulong
– PROCESSOR: Loongson 2F CPU, 800-900 MHz, DDRII SDRAM controller;
– RAM: SO-DIMM DDR II, standard configuration is 512 MB DDR II;
– GRAPHICS: XGI V2 graphics controller, 32 MB internal RAM, VGA, DVI, S-Video output;
– HD: 80 GB Ultra ATA
– OS: Xinhua Rays 2.0 Linux distribution

Other features included USB, infrared port, sound, 1000Mbps Ethernet…

The Loongson 2 chips use a “MIPS64-like” instruction set, but for years refused to purchase an official license from MIPS, since in the eyes of some that ruined the point of a “domestic” processor. A few years ago, for commercial practicality, the fabless project turned to France-based STMicro for the actual production + packaging. STMicro purchased a licensed from MIPS, meaning we can today officially call the Loongson 2F a MIPS64 processor. Its performance has been compared to a Pentium 4.

What can you do with a system like this? Probably not general consumer PC usage. It’s probably most promising in embedded applications: kiosks, terminals, etc. Or, high volume office usage. (I also see no reason why it couldn’t host a WordPress-based blog site…) The closest equivalent currently available on the market is probably the French Linutop (190 Euros) or German Manuscriptum (600+ Euros).

UPDATE: Here’s a direct link to the Fuloong Mini – from the manufacturer Lemote

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36 Responses to “Loongson Lives: Release of Linux PC with Chinese processor”

  1. Buxi Says:

    I’ve also built a few Home-Theater PCs (HTPC) on Windows-based mini computers in the past. With a DVI port and nice little enclosure on the Fuloong, I think it’d make an awesome (and very low cost) HTPC.

    I’ve used Linux for years, but not really kept up… are there any very respectable DVD players for Linux?

  2. Nimrod Says:

    Didn’t this used to be called “Godson”? I mean the literal meaning is “dragon chip”, so I guess “Loongson” is going for phonetics…

  3. pug_ster Says:

    Don’t expect these computers to run Windows for these Loongson processors are MIPS compatible and not x86 compatible. Sad because more than 90% of the computers can run windows and these are the 10%. However, these processors are generally low powered.

  4. BMY Says:

    It’s interesting. Was that a “闭门造车”?So many companies have already had the technology.

    It’s good to have the technology in house in case other people stop exporting processors to China.

    The spec of the PC is enough for general consumer use if consumers use Linux and no problem to host foolsmountain.

    I guess the chip price didn’t really count the overall investment in the past decade. If Intel spent that much money and time to develop the chip and sell it with this price they would lose money.

    It’s strange to let a French company make the chips. There are quite few factories in Shanghai should be capable to manufacture them.

    all the computer DVD drives regardless Japanese or Korean brands might be all made in the same village in Guangdong. no need be that picky, mate. they are so cheap. I’ am not a fan of Linux at all. Maybe I am lazy or too old to remember all the commands.

  5. WillF Says:

    I’m a bit confused as to the purpose of this whole project. Why was it so controversial? And what did it’s backers hope to achieve with it?

  6. BMY Says:

    It’s hardly see any MIPS powered desktops. The Macs now are intel Based.

    There should be a game console “Longwan”(龙玩) following this processor together might be a hit.

  7. Buxi Says:


    It’s interesting. Was that a “闭门造车”?So many companies have already had the technology.

    Yep, that’s definitely true. If you look at the list of MIPS64-licensees… they really are a dime a dozen. There are tens of companies of all sizes, including some smaller startups, with MIPS architecture processors. And MIPS is definitely not the only option… the French/German systems I linked above are based on the AMD Geode, which is x86.

    But maybe this chip is better performing than many of those alternatives…? We’ll have to see some real benchmarks to know. We really should get a system into the hands of Tom’s Hardware to find out. I don’t know if there are any performance benchmarks from Chinese IT sites yet.

    I don’t really understand the choice to use ST Micro. But I wonder if maybe they were concerned that it would look like political pressure if they fabbed with SMIC? And going to ST Micro is at least some proof that there’s commercial interest here?

    If Huawei (which is now one of the top embedded/network/telecom companies in the world) started using this thing… it would take off.

  8. Buxi Says:


    I’m a bit confused as to the purpose of this whole project. Why was it so controversial? And what did it’s backers hope to achieve with it?

    You can compare it to China’s effort to push a native cellular 3G standard, HD-DVD, and even domestic big jet… in order to stimulate native development, the government has been pushing for entirely home-grown solutions built from the ground up (while learning from the best of the West of course).

    The policy goal in all of these cases is to avoid the “trap” of paying royalty payments to Western companies who build the technology, who will then continue to extend their lead in this technology by working on newer and newer generations of products… the goal is to build a Chinese competitor to these companies.

    But in order to achieve this goal, a lot of money has been invested. And there are a lot of people skeptical that a government-funded project can succeed, no matter how much money you pour into it.

    I say, with AMD’s market cap drifting at only $3 billion these days… just buy AMD!

  9. Nimrod Says:

    Yeah right… Congress will definitely intervene if any Chinese company tries to buy AMD, or “American technology”.

  10. pug_ster Says:


    True, when Intel want to build a Fab in Hailan, US interviened and told Intel not to build anything advanced there. So they are going to build a 90 nm Fab instead of a more modern 45nm or lower technology making chipsets and not processors. Truly sad.

  11. Buxi Says:

    Better example than that. When Huawei tried to buy 3Com earlier this year (along with Bain Capital), the US government blocked it on national security grounds.

    I guess these are all compelling reasons why the Loongson project should go ahead.

  12. opersai Says:

    Very interesting. I’ve only heard a little about this project just not long ago. I really hope more of these home-grown project will thrive. In high-tech areas especially. I also wish there will be more innovative Chinese project. Currently, most of the web edge driving phenomena are happening in US, start by US companies, Facebook, Twitter, Google… you name it! We can’t rely on cheap labor much longer. There’s a urgent need for more things made BY China, not from China.

  13. eastman Says:

    —“many were skeptical a Loongson-2 based computer would ever be produced and sold”?
    Nonsense! I bought one and think of it not bad

  14. Buxi Says:


    You’re right, there were some Loongson-2E systems sold! How do you like yours?

    Why were so many people doubtful and skeptical about the existence of a -2F based computer??

  15. deltaeco Says:

    Maybe they should pack it like the Atari ST.


    Or better. Could they use the chip as main CPU for a project similar to OLPC?


    Or BBC Computer

    CCTV computer? 😉

    They could use a similar idea to flood schools in CH with local made and designed computers, obtain economies of scale to make production more cost effective and the same time promoting scientific education.
    That’s the way Apple gained a good foothold in computer market share, education market (future customers), until they became more a “boutique” computer manufacturer. Fancy shiny products…
    I still remember schools packed with Apple II, long time ago.

    If a big enough installation base is achieved, interesting software will follow, which is usually the Achilles heel of new processors.
    If project goes reasonably well, start designing higher end models. For teachers, and for the kids as they grow up. Even for interested business people.
    Something like what apple attempted with Apple III.

    With some luck, you may end with an interesting alternative to IBM PC+Intel+Windows architecture.

  16. jeni Says:

    I’m a bit concerned about the Intellectual Property issues involved here. How much Windows Media Player code does this Linux distribution use?

  17. Buxi Says:


    Yep, the rural education market is very important and meaningful. That’s what Lemote promised to target with their products. I’m a little surprised that the government hasn’t put in a big buy to support this project… perhaps the government is really trying to stay neutral on the buying side, and allow the market decide which companies thrive.

    I’m really thinking about getting one of these to play with, after the next batch of units are made available. They could probably use an American/European distributor, if anyone’s interested in that business.


    Welcome! LOL, we have various people pitching “The Truth” here, and it’s interesting to see another contestant on behalf of the evil empire.

    As a former developer at Microsoft (and I believe several others here are in the same boat)… the “high quality object-oriented C++” mentioned on that site isn’t exactly convincing. I’ll let the lawyers (and we have many of those here too) decide whether there’s really intellectual property issues involved.

  18. FOARP Says:

    @Jeni – Can I second that lol? That site is pure rubbish, and gives nothing but 404 messages for all of its ‘proofs’. I know of no patent infringement cases against Linux, SCO did bring a copyright infringement case (in the US I think) but it was decided that they didn’t actually own the copyright. Yes, Steve Balmer may have made some veiled threats, but it’s a long way from there to this:

    “Don’t risk your personal and professional future. Ask anyone, Linux clearly violates Microsoft Intellectual Property. This has been proven in a court of law [1].

    Sixty three [63] Microsoft software patents are stolen just to get Linux to boot up. And thousands more are infringed on by runlevel 5 [multi-user, networking, X11].”

    Do a search yourself, no patent cases or other IP infringement cases have been brought by Microsoft – I have no idea where they got the figure of 63 Microsoft patents being ‘stolen’ from. But most importantly for the purposes of your question, China does not allow software to be patented, instead software is covered by copyright law, in which case the whole idea/expression dichotomy and derivation problems come in. So to give you a short answer – no, IP infringement is not likely to be a problem in China or Europe, and since no patent infringement case has been brought yet in the States, I ‘m going to hazard a guess that it isn’t a problem there either.

    Searching a bit further – the Microsoft threat was sparked by a study written by an anti-software patent campaigner which showed that Linux might be infringing as many as 280+ patents, this is what he had to say on it:

    “Open source faces no more, if not less, legal risk than proprietary software,” Ravicher told technology news site eWeek. “The market needs to understand that the study Microsoft is citing actually proves the opposite of what they claim it does.

    “There is no reason to believe that GNU/Linux has any greater risk of infringing patents than Windows, Unix-based or any other functionally similar operating system. Why? Because patents are infringed by specific structures that accomplish specific functionality.”….

    Ravicher said the crucial difference between his report and Ballmer’s use of it was in the distinction between potential and actual patent violation.

    “Ballmer makes a very bold statement by saying Linux infringes hundreds of patents,” Ravicher said. “That is extremely different than saying ‘Linux potentially infringes x patent’, because the requirement to prove infringement is much more difficult than the requirement to simply file a case claiming infringement.

    “He misconstrues the point of the OSRM study, which found that Linux potentially, not definitely, infringes 283 untested patents, while not infringing a single court-validated patent.”

    Once again though, these are US patents, and are not infringed by activities in another country.

  19. psychicist Says:

    I have the previous Fuloong with the Loongson 2E processor and it’s been in use for more than a year now as a 24×7 desktop and development machine (for distribution porting). Not to mention that my familiy have been using it as their main computer during all that time and it hasn’t exactly fallen short, particularly after upgrading the internal hard drive and memory.

  20. Buxi Says:


    Interesting, good to hear. Did that version also use a similar Linux distribution? Users on the official Lemote forum seems to be talking about the OS being a little slow, compared to other Debian-based distributions. I’m curious if you’ve done anything about that.

    Is there any hope for a Wine-type solution for MIPS64 architectures? I’m not at all married to Windows, but I know many other users are.

    I’m really looking to get one if/when it becomes available.

  21. psychicist Says:

    @ Buxi

    It came with a slightly modified Debian 4.0 installation and a version of Rays which I’ve never even booted. I’m running my Slackware port on it, maybe that’s why I don’t find it particularly slow for its clock speed. I’ve built o32 binaries with MIPS III optimisation and it’s running a 64-bit kernel so I have access to the full 1 GB of memory. I’ve also completed a pure MIPS64 build that I’ll be developing internally until I think it’s good enough to be released for testing purposes.

    I’ll have a look at creating a multilib version using an n32 user land and see if that makes any performance difference. I’m waiting for the release of the new systems too, but that’s fortunately going to be really soon. There will probably be a functional QEMU build which can run Linux binaries for other architectures such as x86 and WINE can be run under that with a performance penalty.

    Another option that I haven’t explored yet is Bochs, but despite recent interesting developments I don’t expect it to be fast enough for serious use. I hope it will be able to run anything up to Windows 2000 with moderate speed, though. You can expect better performance when a future version of Loongson will implement binary translation support.

    Still, I think you should stick to x86 hardware if you want to run Windows software at the moment. It doesn’t have to be desktop hardware, you could have a server with Terminal Services or virtualised Windows desktops for that purpose. There are already 3 large vendors of x86 processors, so I don’t think other companies should waste their time creating another one, when it’s much easier to create an innovative and high-performance processor without having to deal with the x86 legacy.

  22. Alejandro Mery Says:

    Thanks for your review,
    do you know how can one buy a fuloong mini 2f from outside china? and getting it shipped outside china too of course

    Thanks in advance

  23. Chops Says:

    China Aims for Petaflop Computer in 2010

    ‘China has stepped up investment in its homegrown Godson microprocessor and hopes to build its first petaflop-class supercomputer using the chip in 2010, one of the country’s senior engineers said on Tuesday.

    The country still lags behind its international rivals in chip development but is doing its best to catch up, he said in a presentation at the Hot Chips conference in Palo Alto, California.

    China has produced four Godson processors, the latest being the Godson 2f. It struck a deal last year with STMicroelectronics to manufacture and sell the chips, and they are now used by 40 companies in set-top boxes, laptops and other products, Xu said. The commercial name for the chips is Loongson.

    Next month China will complete the design of a new version of the chip, the Godson 2g, which integrates more functionality on the silicon. Next year it hopes to include graphics capabilities on the same silicon as the main processor, much as AMD and Intel are doing today.

    China is also hard at work on the Godson 3, which is aimed primarily at servers and will be the first Godson to use a multi-core design. A version of the chip due in 2009 will have four general-purpose cores, and four specialized cores for tasks like scientific computing. The general-purpose cores will run at 1GHz and be similar to those on the Godson 2, Xu said.

    China hopes the Godson 3 will allow it to build a high-performance computer in 2010 that can perform at one petaflop per second, Xu said. That would match the IBM system based on an advanced Cell processor that led this year’s Top500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

    Asked after his speech if the goal is realistic, Xu said, “it’s possible, but it will be hard.” Besides developing the system, China will have to find markets to sell it to, he noted. The U.S. is skittish about buying Chinese equipment for government-related work for security reasons.

    Godson’s use in PCs has been held back by the fact that it is based on a MIPS core, as opposed to the x86 design used by Intel and AMD. To run Windows it has to use translation software to achieve x86-compatibility, and the Godson loses a lot of its native MIPS power in the process.’


  24. RMBWhat Says:

    OMG @ Jeni, that website is full of troll-b.s. Argghh…

    Anyways, Buxi, are you talking about DVD player software? I’m currently using a “wussie” linux distro, ubuntu 8.10. It works great. You download restricted codecs with one click (or apt-get it) and viola everything works. If you hardware is not the latest and greatest then I don’t see you having any problems with it. Also, VLC media player is awesome. Just have to download the dvd crack thing that usually is part of the restricted codec package for you distro. I think as long as you have a legitimate DVD player then the crack is legit, not sure tho.

    According to the wiki article they already built a 1 tflops supercomputer with it for about $100,000. I can definitely see some uses for it. You can buy a Nvidia telsa, the 3tflop one, for about $20,000 I think.

  25. Wukailong Says:

    Hmm, this might be something for me. I’ve been thinking of taking up programming under Linux again after all these years, and buy a cheap PC to complement my Mac. It certainly looks like a good machine to do experiments with.

  26. RMBWhat Says:

    Yeah. Linux is awesome for programming. The only reason I still keep a windoze box (yeah WINDOZE Jerry, HAHA) is to play games. But I hardly boot-up windows anymore for games, since gaming is a distraction to work, hehe.

    So you what you planning on programming Wukailong? C++? Java? Python? Php? Web-development? Graphixs? What?

  27. Wukailong Says:

    I want to have a go at some framebuffer programming, perhaps doing something with this long-dead project (mostly for fun though, I don’t have time or energy to revive it):


    I mostly program in Objective-C using a Mac, but Linux would be great for doing low-level programming and optimizing.

  28. Wukailong Says:

    Hmm, looks like I was caught in a spam filter… Hope the comment comes back soon, or I’ll repost it.

  29. BMY Says:


    You are the first one I heard of a programmer using a Mac.(I knew there were but not many at all).It’s good to know.
    I’ve met all graphic people on the Macs.

  30. Wukailong Says:

    @BMY: I used to be a Linux type, but then I switched to Mac because it is all Unix I need, plus it is a stable platform with a nice touch. But I would like to do more cross-platform stuff, and Linux is best for tinkering about. 🙂

  31. RMBWhat Says:

    Yeah Mac rocks now, way better than Windoze. There are also lots of Mac programmers too. I’ve noticed a trend lately that many are moving to Mac environment for development if given the chance to (i.e. company upgrade).


    Wow, that sounds awesome. I’m sure you know what you doing, hehe :).

    I just mess with opengl and shaders.

  32. Denny Says:

    Your product is build 3 NIC Card?


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