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AMD teases first 64-bit ARM server chip series, codenamed Seattle

Advanced Micro Devices this week offered up some more details about forthcoming 64-bit ARM-based server processors codenamed Seattle, which the company said it will be sampling to partners this quarter.

The Seattle family of server chips has officially been dubbed the Opteron A1100 series and represents AMD's first stab at a system-on-a-chip (SoC) design for data centre products using the 64-bit ARMv8-A instruction set.

"The needs of the data center are changing. A one-size-fits-all approach typically limits efficiency and results in higher-cost solutions," Suresh Gopalakrishnan, corporate vice president and general manager of the AMD server business unit, said in a statement. "The new ARM-based AMD Opteron A-Series processor brings the experience and technology portfolio of an established server processor vendor to the ARM ecosystem and provides the ideal complement to our established AMD Opteron x86 server processors."

The AMD Opteron A1100 Series features ARM Cortex-A57 chips fabricated with 28-nanometer process technology and available with either four or eight central processor cores. AMD hasn't revealed SKUs or pricing, but here are the rest of the specs, supported features, and included technologies for the series, per the chip maker:

  • Up to 4MB of shared L2 and 8MB of shared L3 cache
  • Configurable dual DDR3 or DDR4 memory channels with ECC at up to 1866 MT/second
  • Up to four SODIMM, UDIMM or RDIMMs
  • Eight lanes of PCI-Express Gen 3 I/O
  • Eight Serial ATA 3 ports
  • Two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • ARM TrustZone technology for enhanced security
  • Crypto and data compression co-processors

AMD said the Opteron A1100 series offers "2-4x the performance of the AMD Opteron X-Series with significant improvement in compute per watt." The chip maker is positioning its new 64-bit ARM server chips for scale-out data centre deployments in areas like cloud computing and web hosting.

In a presentation at the Open Compute conference in San Jose, AMD also introduced a new Open Compute Project-compliant, Opteron A1100 Series motherboard code named Group Hug.

AMD is also releasing a Micro-ATX development kit with Opteron A1100 Series processor samples. That development kit includes the following parts and software tools:

  • An AMD Opteron A1100 series processor
  • Four registered DIMM slots for up to 128GB of DDR3 DRAM
  • PCI Express connectors configurable as a single x8 or dual x4 ports
  • Eight Serial-ATA connectors
  • Compatibility with standard power supplies
  • Ability to be used stand-alone or mounted in standard rack-mount chassis
  • Standard UEFI boot environment
  • Linux environment based on Fedora, with tools and applications including the standard Linux GNU tool chain, platform device drivers, Apache Web server, MySQL database engine, PHP scripting language, Java 7, and Java 8 versions

Applied Micro, another chip design firm, has also announced a 64-bit ARM-based server processor called X-Gene2. That could set up what industry analyst Patrick Moorhead believed would be "two-horse race between AMD and Applied Micro" in the first wave of 64-bit ARM server products.

"AMD's Seattle is sampling earlier than I expected and I really think its key differentiator is the 'Freedom Fabric' [data center fabric framework] and the nearly 15 years they have been doing server silicon," said Moorhead, principal analyst for Moor Insights & Strategy. "Applied Micro's X-Gene 2 is distinctive in that it is a custom core, not licensed, and if they can execute, it will perform very well. Applied Micro also brings a ton of networking experience to the party as they are leaders in that space.

"It's going to be an interesting 2014."

Moorhead added that he expected the first real revenue generated by ARM 64-bit servers to appear in the second half of this year.

AMD, the second-biggest maker of x86-based microprocessors behind Intel, partnered with ARM in October 2012 to develop a new line of Opteron server chips using the 64-bit version of the ARM instruction set. The company currently makes microservers for dense server deployments, but they use Intel's low-power, 64-bit Atom processors based on the x86 instruction set.

Others, like Applied Micro, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments (TI), have also invested considerably in developing 64-bit ARM SoCs for data centre products. But the development period has been long and expensive — one such venture, Calxeda, was recently forced to close its doors after running out of time and money while waiting for the 64-bit instruction set to be ready.

Though the introduction of 64-bit, ARM-based SoCs for the data centre is a major step for ARM, the consumer device market actually moved forward with the firm's first 64-bit instruction set even earlier. Specifically, Apple used the ARMv8 instruction set for the A7 application processor powering the iPhone 5S, released last September.