Chipgate: Powerleader's power play or Intel inside job?

Emre Çitak
May 30, 2023
Updated • May 30, 2023

The Chinese computer hardware producer, Powerleader,  finds itself embroiled in controversy following allegations that its newly introduced "home-grown" chip may, in fact, be a rebadged integrated circuit (IC) from Intel Corp. This revelation stems from a recent benchmark test on Powerleader's Powerstar chips, which strikingly resemble Intel's Core i3-10105 Comet Lake CPU.

If substantiated, this incident could deal a significant blow to China's indigenous chip development efforts, reminiscent of the infamous Hanxin scandal in 2006.

Geekbench results draw suspicion

The recent benchmark testing on Geekbench, a well-known platform for CPU performance evaluation, has raised suspicions about the authenticity of Powerleader's chip. On May 26, the test results were published, unveiling an uncanny resemblance between Powerleader's Powerstar P3-01105 CPUs and Intel's Core i3-10105 Comet Lake CPU.

On Powerleader's Powerstar P3-01105 CPU's Geekbench page, the chip's codename is called ''Comet Lake'' which is identical to Intel's 10th generation CPUs.

Powerstar Intel chip
Powerstar's chip carries the same codename as Intel's 10th generation i3 series - Screenshot: Geekbench

However, it is important to note that independent verification is yet to be conducted, leaving the authenticity of Powerleader's chip still in question.

Meet Powerleader

Powerleader, based in Shenzhen, has been primarily engaged in the manufacturing of servers and personal computers for industrial users since its establishment in 1997.

Despite venturing into chip development, the company has traditionally relied on Intel processors for its flagship products. The lack of a track record in semiconductor development raises eyebrows regarding Powerleader's sudden claim of a "home-grown" chip.

The past

Should the allegations surrounding Powerleader's Powerstar CPU be proven true, it would represent a significant setback for China's aspirations in creating indigenous chips. This incident bears a striking resemblance to the Hanxin scandal of 2006, where Chen Jin, the developer of the Hanxin series of chips from Shanghai's Jiaotong University, was exposed for "serious falsification and fraud".

The Hanxin project, initially hailed as a breakthrough that would elevate Shanghai's status as a global chip manufacturing center, was marred by controversy, undermining its credibility.

Powerleader's product launch

On May 7, Powerleader announced the release of its first-generation Powerstar CPUs during a press conference. The company emphasized that these CPUs were developed based on the x86 architecture, positioning them for applications across various sectors, including government, education, energy, industry, finance, healthcare, gaming, and retail.

However, it is worth noting that Powerleader's reliance on Intel processors prior to its chip development initiative raises questions about the company's ability to deliver on its claim of a genuinely homegrown chip.

Powerstar Intel chip
Powerstar's products' chips used to be sent by Intel

China has long been striving to establish a robust domestic IC industry. However, numerous hurdles, such as limited intellectual property (IP) and the absence of locally created instruction set architecture, have hindered progress.

As a result, Chinese companies have resorted to acquiring chip designs from foreign counterparts, exemplified by the licensing agreement between Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Chinese chip designer Haiguang in 2016. The challenge lies in overcoming these obstacles and achieving true self-sufficiency in chip manufacturing.

Like you, we are eagerly waiting for updates on the subject.


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