Applied Micro Unveils Next-Gen ARM Server SoC

CEO Paramesh Gopi says the X-Gene 3 chip will help drive ARM's efforts to take 25 percent of the server market from Intel by 2020.

Applied Micro CEO

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Applied Micro's next-generation ARM-based X-Gene processor will be a more robust server chip that will offer significant performance gains over its current offerings and will target data center workloads now running on Intel's mid- and high-level silicon.

Applied Micro President and CEO Paramesh Gopi introduced the X-Gene 3 during the second day of ARM's TechCon 2015 show here Nov. 11, saying that when the system-on-a-chip (SoC) starts shipping in systems in 2017, it will be the only ARM-based chip that can challenge Intel's dominance in the data center.

"There will be no higher-performing ARM part in the market," Gopi said in an interview with eWEEK.

X-Gene 3 will come with 32 cores running up to 3GHz, eight DDR4 memory channels running up to 2,667MHz and 42 PCIe Gen 3 lanes. The SoC, manufactured via Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing's 16-nanometer FinFET process, will offer four to six times the performance of the current X-Gene chips, Gopi said.

Applied Micro's unveiling of the X-Gene 3, combined with statements made by enterprise and tech vendor officials here about their plans for using ARM-based server chips, is putting some muscle behind ARM executives' bold contention that a quarter of servers sold in 2020 will be powered by ARM-based chips. Intel currently owns about 95 percent of the global server market.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst with Moor Insights and Strategy, noted that there have been some OEMs that are using ARM-based processors in some systems and reports of proofs-of-concept (POCs) running inside some enterprises, but he had hoped to see more momentum behind ARM's data center efforts by this time.

"We still haven't seen mass deployments," Moorhead told eWEEK. "But I feel more comfortable [after Gopi's announcement and ARM customer statements] that we will see deployments, and they will happen soon."

ARM-based SoCs from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung can be found in the bulk of mobile devices—particularly smartphones and tablets—on the market today, but the company in the last few years has been pushing to extend the reach of its silicon into new areas. That has been on display during TechCon, with much of the focus on the Internet of things (IoT). However, there also has been a lot of talk about ARM's efforts to gain a foothold in the data center, and the executives' contention that they can capture 25 percent of the market—a statement they made to investors earlier this year—has gotten a lot of attention and met with some skepticism.

Some of that skepticism has come from the fact that ARM officials have been talking about this for several years—then-CEO Warren East said in 2010 that the company would begin cutting into Intel's market share by 2014—with relatively little to show for it. Applied Micro has led the way in developer ARM-based server SoCs based on the 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture, though Advanced Micro Devices and Cavium also sell server chips (though Cavium has seen more success right now in networking), and others—such as Qualcomm and Broadcom—have plans in the works.

Some vendors also are adopting ARM chips for some of their products. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) leads the way with its X-Gene-based ProLiant Moonshot m300 low-power compute module, though Dell and others—such as Cirrascale, E4 Computer Engineering and startup SoftIron (which had a system powered by AMD's ARM-based Opteron A1100 chips on display at the show)—also are pushing hardware. Supercomputer maker Cray also is testing ARM-based chips.

Regarding end users, Applied Micro announced earlier this year that PayPal has deployed ARM-based servers in its data center, though most other efforts fall into the PoC or test categories.