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AppliedMicro to crank up mobile chips to 16 cores for servers

Agam Shah | June 2, 2014
AppliedMicro is sharing details about its X-Gene 2 and X-Gene 3 ARM server chips ahead of Computex

AppliedMicro plans to put ARM mobile chips with 16 cores in servers, but is approaching the market cautiously following the abrupt shutdown of ARM server pioneer Calxeda late last year.

AppliedMicro will talk about its faster and more power-efficient processors called X-Gene 2 and X-Gene 3, which has 3D transistors and 16 cores, at a forum in Taipei hosted by Digitimes Friday, ahead of next week's Computex trade show. The company's first 64-bit X-Gene low-power chip is based on ARM architecture and will be in servers by the end of this year.

There is an interest in ARM chips for Web hosting. Their low-power consumption could help cut data-center electric bills. But only a handful of 32-bit ARM servers are available from companies like Mitac and Boston Ltd. More 64-bit ARM servers are expected to come out by the end of this year.

With the X-Gene 2 and 3 chips, AppliedMicro wants to pack more horsepower in dense and rack servers. Around 20 server makers have expressed interest in using the first X-Gene chip, said Gaurav Singh, vice president in technical strategy at AppliedMicro.

Hewlett-Packard has said it will use X-Gene in its Moonshot dense servers, and Singh said more partners will be announced at the Taipei forum. The initial X-Gene servers are a start and a good look at how ARM stacks up against Intel's x86 chip, which dominates the server market, Singh said.

AppliedMicro has demonstrated the server chip running OpenStack, Memcached and other key Web applications. The company wants to ensure the relevant software and tools are ready when the servers arrive, Singh said.

"The whole benefit of ARM versus the incumbent, people can actually see it now," Singh said. "There's definitely excitement."

The X-Gene has eight customized 2.4GHz CPU cores made using the older 40-nanometer process. It has integrated networking and I/O modules, error correction and RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability) features.

The successor X-Gene 2 chip could appear in servers in as soon as 12 to 18 months, but it could be later, Singh said. The chip will also have eight cores, but will deliver better performance-per-watt and be made using the advanced 28-nanometer process. Network and I/O enhancements will result in throughput improvements, which will allow processing cores in a server to exchange data faster. The chip will also reduce application latency so servers can create and terminate virtual machines faster.

Singh did not provide a release date for the X-Gene 3, but it will boast many power-efficiency and performance improvements with 3D transistors. The chip could have 16 cores and will be made using FinFET processors, which allows placing 3D transistors on chips.

"We are looking at an increased core count where it makes sense. What the market wants now is eight cores," Singh said. "There are still innovations from the microarchitecture that can come. We're focusing on that."


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