AMD plans to sample its first ARM-based processors for servers early
next year, alongside paired CPUs and integrated graphics cores in an
attempt to oust Intel’s Xeon from its dominance in the server market.
Specifically, AMD’s ARM core will be code-named “Seattle,” and will
ship in volume during the second half of 2014, AMD executives said. In
2014, AMD will also ship “Berlin,” a core available in both a CPU form
factor as well as an APU, which integrates the processor with an
integrated graphics coprocessor. Finally, there’s the “Warsaw,” which
will compete with in high-performance computing (HPC) applications with
Seattle is of interest to both AMD and to other industry watchers
because it represents one of the more interesting opportunities for AMD
to regain share in the server market. Last year, AMD said last year that it had agreed to license ARM 64-bit technology, and would combine it with its Freedom Fabric, the name given to its high-speed networking technology it acquired via SeaMicro.
Intel sells more than 80 percent of all microprocessors by unit
volume, but in servers it’s a virtual dictatorship; during the fourth
quarter of 2012, Mercury Research estimated that Intel sold about 95.7
percent of all server microprocessors sold. To compete, AMD needs
something different, and it’s hoping ARM represents that edge.
The hope for ARM
ARM is the processor architecture that powers the vast majority of
the world’s smartphones, where low power is a priority. That hasn’t been
the case inside the server space until the last few years, when system
administrators realized that the majority of cost in operating a server
comes from the power it takes to operate it. The problem, however, is
that the low-power ARM architecture still runs using a 32-bit
instruction set, rather than the 64-bit instructions demanded by server
ARM announced its ARMv8 64-bit architecture
in 2011, and has worked to build an ecosystem of software and hardware
since then. Eventually, hardware licensees like Applied Micro and
others, including AMD, will manufacture ARM-based CPUs. Then server
makers will build out their own products, putting ARM-based servers on
the market possibly late next year. Those “microservers” will be used
for hosting, static workloads like serving Web pages, cloud gaming, and
Microservers like HP’s “Moonshot” will prove to be good homes for AMD processors, it hopes.
“This isn’t someone questioning if ARM is really a viable
technology,” said Michael Detwiler, a product marketing manager with
AMD. “ARM is going to be a player in the server market.”
Detwiler said that AMD admits that other companies have more
experience building phones and other clients around the ARM
architecture. With its SeaMicro technology, however, which can work with
a variety of processor architectures including ARM and X86, Detwiler
said he expects no other provider will be able to surround the ARM
Cortex-A57 core, the heart of “Seattle,” with the type of enterprise
logic that AMD will provide.
AMD promises that the Seattle chip will run at greater than 2GHz, and have between two and four times the performance for the Opteron X-series, also known as the “Kyoto” cores,
which AMD will also ship in the same timeframe for the microserver
market. Each Seattle chip will contain 8 cores with 128MB of DRAM
support, followed by a 16-core version. Dedicated encryption and
compression blocks will also be included, Detwiler said, along with
10-Gbit Ethernet for networking.
AMD sees its “Berlin” core, which will integrate four next-generation
of AMD’s “Steamroller” CPUs, playing in the same general space as the
Seattle CPUs, but with significantly higher performance. Versions of the
chip will contain AMD’s “Graphics Core Next” GPU, forming an
Accelerated Processor Unit that combines CPUs and GPUs, AMD said. The
company says Berlin will have about twice the performance of Kyoto.
It will also be AMD’s first APU to run AMD’s Heterogenous System
Architecture. While some HPC servers have begun adding repurposed
graphics coprocessors as computational accelerators, programming them is
a pain. AMD’s HSA helps to alleviate that by using a single programming
model, which AMD hopes will accelerate their adoption. Berlin will be
available early in 2014, AMD said.
Finally, there’s Warsaw, which AMD hopes will be purchased by
customers designing private and public clouds. Warsaw will succeed the
existing Opteron 6300 chip, maintaining socket compatibility but
offering either 12 or 16 Piledriver cores, Detwiler said. Warsaw will
form the heart of AMD’s Open Compute 3.0 server initiative, based upon
the Open Compute Project that Facebook and others have developed for
their own datacenters.