AppliedMicro has announced a new family of 64-bit ARM chips that could disrupt the stodgy but sizeable market for components used in network routers, printers and other "embedded" equipment.
Cisco Systems, Netgear and Hewlett-Packard were among the vendors at a press conference Wednesday that said they're exploring the chips, which will be sold under the brand Helix starting in 2015.
AppliedMicro makes the X-Gene system-on-chip used in Hewlett-Packard's latest Moonshot server, which went on sale this week and became the first 64-bit ARM server to hit the market.
Helix is based on the same ARMv8 core as X-Gene, but it's offered in a variety of configurations for use in network and storage gear, as well as printers and factory robots.
Those markets have been dominated by PowerPC and MIPS designs, as well as 32-bit ARM chips from AppliedMicro and others. But PowerPC and MIPS have been in decline, and equipment makers are looking for a new platform with enough performance to see them through the next few years.
Intel has been trying to position its x86 chips for the job, and now AppliedMicro is stepping up with 64-bit ARM.
Cisco uses a mixture of MIPS, PowerPC and x86, but it would like to standardize on one architecture, said Pradeep Kathail, a chief software architect at Cisco, speaking at an AppliedMicro press event at ARM TechCon.
It likes ARM because of the wide choice of chip vendors, he said. ARM chips are designed by a U.K. company of the same name, which licenses its architecture for use by dozens of vendors.
Cisco is exploring Helix in particular because it needs a 64-bit architecture for the routers and switches at the edge of networks, which need to handle ever greater amounts of traffic, he said.
"It's the power of the ecosystem," Kathail said. "ARM has 50 licensees, and as we see that community migrate to 64 bits, the power of innovation will be exponential."
Netgear also wants to standardize on one architecture, and it will need a 64-bit design as 10-Gigabit Ethernet spreads more widely throughout its product line, said CTO Jeff Capone.
Canonical, which makes the Ubuntu OS; Wind River, which makes an embedded OS; and Konica, which makes printers, were also at the press conference to back Helix.
Applied Micro still needs to get the chips from testing into production, which isn't a trivial feat for a brand-new family of products. Its X-Gene chip took longer than AppliedMicro originally said it would to find its way into a product.
Helix is sampling now and will be in production in 2015, CEO Paramesh Gopi said Wednesday. "Our customers have tasted a bit of the Helix juice and we already have design wins," he bragged.
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