The company has been working on the ARM-based chip for several years, but the competition with Intel and other ARM partners will be fierce.
Intel officials are expected to announce on Sept. 4 the availability of “Avoton,” the company’s next-generation Atom processor aimed at the growing ultra-low-power server space that rival chip maker ARM and its partners also have their eyes on.
The microserver space promises to be a heavily contested market as demand for such systems grow and Intel and ARM maneuver to address that demand. Intel officials have argued that the advantage is theirs: Avoton will be the second-generation follow-on
to “Centerton,” it already has such data center features as 64-bit capabilities and greater memory and virtualization support, and offers x86-based tools and software that are familiar with most developers and data center administrators.
ARM executives have said their low-power system-on-a-chip
(SoC) designs, which were initially created for the mobile device space, are a good fit for the microserver space, which is expected to continue growing, driven by such trends as cloud computing, big data and mobility. While the bulk of ARM-based server SoCs currently are 32-bit—from such vendors as Calxeda
and Marvell Technology
—ARM officials note that they expect chips using the upcoming 64-bit ARMv8 will begin hitting the market next year.
A company in the middle of all this is Applied Micro
, a smaller vendor whose executives in 2011 announced they would come out with the industry’s first 64-bit ARM-based SoC by the end of last year. With the market heating up now and Intel and other ARM vendors outlining their plans for chips for dense, low-power servers, Applied Micro officials are looking to press what they say is an 18-month advantage over those competing ARM partners.
The company has built a 40-nanometer version of its X-Gene SoC, which executives call the first ARM server product on the market. During a conference call with analysts and journalists in July to talk about the company’s quarter financial numbers, President and CEO Paramesh Gopi said the company has completed testing a 28-nm X-Gene model in the company’s labs, and will tape out the part in late 2013 and begin sampling it to customers in the first half of 2014.
The 28-nm X-Gene also will be complemented by X-Weave, a family of connectivity products that will enable X-Gene to scale to 100 Gb/s and beyond. In addition, Applied Micro announced in April a partnership with Altera to develop joint solutions that will enable Applied Micro to leverage Altera’s field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology in its products, including X-Gene.
The result will be an ARM-based server SoC that has the enterprise features and capabilities found in Intel’s Xeon server chips, Gopi said in an interview with eWEEK
. It will be highly competitive with Intel’s x86 processors—a 30-year-old architecture built to support Microsoft’s Windows—and will be ahead of other ARM chip partners, who are essentially looking to build server chips using ARM’s Cortex-A57 designs, which Gopi said are found in tablets.
“We wanted to build a Xeon-class ARM” chip, he said, noting that other ARM partners are currently working on 32-bit parts. “There is no market for 32-bit in servers. It isn’t there.”
Not only is X-Gene a true 64-bit ARM SoC built exclusively for the server space, but it comes with features such as error-correcting code (ECC) memory, as well as I/O capabilities such as 40 Gigabit Ethernet, Generation-3 SATA and Generation-2 PCI-Express. Such features give Applied Micro a “sustained, differentiated advantage” over other ARM partners, Gopi said.
“If it’s not a Xeon-class chip, [enterprises] are not going to look at you,” he said.