AMD Unveils Details of First AMD-Based Server SoCs

“Seattle” will offer up to 16 ARM Cortex-A57 cores and significant improvements in performance and energy efficiency, AMD officials say.

Advanced Micro Devices officials are laying out a server chip road map that includes the company's first ARM-based processor named "Seattle" that will begin appearing in the second half of 2014.

Seattle is part of a larger effort by AMD to build Opteron server processors that meet the demands for greater system performance and energy efficiency from organizations that are building cloud environments and dealing with such trends as big data and mobility.

AMD officials on June 18 unveiled upcoming x86-based server chips—dubbed "Berlin" and "Warsaw"—that will aim for greater rack density and the two- and four-socket server sets, respectively. But it's Seattle that will get a lot of the attention.

ARM designs chips and then licenses those designs to a wide range of vendors, from Samsung and Qualcomm to Nvidia and Texas Instruments. ARM-designed systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) dominate the mobile device space, including smartphones and tablets, but officials now believe their low-power designs could fit well in some hyperscale servers that demand greater energy efficiency.

AMD officials last year said the company would begin manufacturing ARM-based server SoCs starting in 2014, part of the company's ambidextrous strategy of offering customers chips based on whatever architecture they demand. In a recent interview with eWEEK, Andrew Feldman, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Server Business Unit, said that ARM will begin seeing tremendous traction in the server space, holding as much as 20 percent of the server chip space by 2016.

And AMD will be the dominant supplier of ARM-based server SoCs, Feldman said. There already are chip makers—Calxeda, Marvell Technologies and Applied Micro—that offer ARM server chips. However, those vendors don't have AMD's history of making processors, the massive amounts of IP to draw on, or the strong relationships with OEMs and original design manufacturers, Feldman said. They also don't have the experience or resources to churn out upgraded chips every 12 to 18 months.

"The CPU business is no place for small companies," Feldman said. "It's just too expensive."

ARM-based server chips will begin to see true momentum after ARM releases its upcoming ARMv8 designs, which will include such key server features as 64-bit capabilities and greater virtualization support, he said. AMD will begin with Seattle, an SoC that company officials said will offer two to four times the performance of AMD's new x86-based Opteron-X chips.

Seattle initially will come in eight-core versions, and then 16 cores, with up to 64GB of DRAM support. The highly energy-efficient chips will be based on ARM's Cortex-A57 cores that will hit speeds of 2GHz or more, and will include integrated 10 Gigabit Ethernet. They also will feature AMD's Freedom Fabric—acquired last year when the company bought microserver maker SeaMicro—integrated on the SoCs.