Calxeda outs 'EnergyCore' ARM server chip

Calxeda has released details of its 'EnergyCore' processor, which - as rumours claimed - will form the heart of a new range of low-power servers from Hewlett Packard.

Rumours that HP was looking to produce a range of low-power, high-density servers based on ARM processors from Calxeda appeared late last month, and have finally been confirmed by both companies.

It's something which will be welcomed by ARM: the British chip design giant has long been hoping to break into the server market, with director of embedded solutions Ian Ferguson admitting recently that his company has been "looking at this area for a while."

The Calxeda EnergyCore system-on-chip design, announced today, includes an 80Gbit/s fabric switch and a management system with integrated power optimisation functionality, a massive - for an ARM chip - 4MB ECC L2 cache and a raft of server-oriented IO functionality.

Built using up to four ARM Cortex-A9 processing cores running at speeds of between 1.1GHz and 1.4GHz, the EnergyCore SoC includes support for 1Gbit/s and 10Gbit/s Ethernet, up to five SATA 3.0Gbit/s drives, SD and eMMC cards, and a 72-bit DDR memory controller with ECC support and 32-bit physical memory addressing.

It's this latter feature that could prove a sticking point for Calxeda's chip: unlike the server-oriented Cortex-A15 design, the Cortex-A9 is a true 32-bit chip, meaning that it can address an absolute maximum of 4GB of memory natively.

In the smartphones and tablets, for which the Cortex-A9 was designed, that's not a problem - but in a server environment it could prove a sticking point. ARM's latest architecture standard includes full 64-bit memory addressing support, but that's not something that will be included in the first EnergyCore chips.

Despite this, both Calxeda and HP are hoping for great things - and looking at the power draw of the design, it's easy to see why: the chip draws between 1.5W and 5W, compared to the often hundred-watt thermal design profile of a modern Intel or AMD server processor.

"We believe a new era of energy-efficient servers is now dawning for scale-out workloads, and today we are introducing the foundational architecture that will enable this breakthrough," crowed Barry Evans, CEO and co-founder of Calxeda, at the launch. "While we are proud to launch our Calxeda EnergyCore processors, we are even more thrilled with the many partners who are joining us on this journey."

HP's initial Calxeda-powered product will be a a 4U server chassis holding a total of 288 Calxeda servers, with each server having up to four cores and 4GB of RAM for a total of 1152 processing cores and over 1TB of memory.

Pricing, sadly, has yet to be revealed.