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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's main ARM server challenger is Advanced Micro Devices, which is shipping a 64-bit ARM processor code-named Seattle to test customers. Cavium and Marvell are also developing ARM server chips.

AppliedMicro has first-mover advantage as it is the only company with a 64-bit chip based on a custom core, while others are using off-the-shelf parts like ARM's Cortex-A57 cores, said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

ARM's Cortex-A57 core will also be used in smartphones and tablets.

But the competition will pick up as AMD is planning a customized ARM core, Moorhead said. The ARM core, called K12, was recently announced by AMD as part of Project Skybridge, a series of products that will provide the plumbing for its ARM and x86 cores to be interchanged or combined on a single motherboard.

A road map of X-Gene 2 and 3 shows that AppliedMicro has future plans for ARM servers, Moorhead said. Showing commitment is important for chip makers, especially with questions lingering around ARM servers, Moorhead said.

AppliedMicro's Singh acknowledged the skepticism surrounding ARM servers and said the company is approaching the future cautiously. The failure of the first ARM server chip maker, Calxeda, raised eyebrows, but AppliedMicro learned some lessons.

"Calxeda was a very good exercise in validating. They were able to come out and show TCO [total-cost-of-ownership] benefits in using their parts," Singh said. "They were too early, and were not able to sustain the investments."

Calxeda started off with a 32-bit ARM server chip and had an innovative fabric, but server performance is critical and there was a demand for 64-bit chips, Singh said. AppliedMicro decided not to invest in 32-bit chips and started off with 64-bit server chips.

Though pitted against each other, ARM server chip makers have a common goal to dismantle Intel's dominance, Singh said. ARM server companies jointly defined 64-bit server architecture through ARM's Server Base System Architecture organization and worked on software development through the nonprofit Linaro.

But AppliedMicro believes it has an advantage because of the custom cores in X-Gene.

"There will be excitement," Singh said. "The first company out there gets feedback from the market."


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