AMD announces 64-bit ARM-based Opteron server chips

The A1100 is its first swing at a server processor with ARM cores.

AMD has introduced its first ARM-based server chips based on the ARMv8 64-bit core. The company introduced them at the Open Compute Project summit taking place in San Jose this week.

The chips are codenamed "Seattle," keeping with AMD's tradition of naming its server Opteron chips after major cities (desktop processors are named after rivers). The Seattle line comes with four or eight CPU cores based on ARM's 64-bit Cortex-A57 design, its first 64-bit processor. This is a true 64-bit processor, not a fudged one like the Apple A7.

The processors come with up to 4 MB of shared L2 cache and 8 MB of shared L3 cache, support for DDR3 and DDR4 memory at speeds of up to 1866 MT/second with error correction code (ECC), 8 lanes of PCI-Express 3 I/O, 8 Serial ATA 3 ports and two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The chip also includes dedicated co-processors to assist with encryption and compression duties.

The Cortex-A57 is a 64-bit successor to the high-end 32-bit Cortex-A15 and can be used in ARM's unique big.LITTLE configuration. big.LITTLE uses a combination of big (ie. high-performance, power hungry) and little (slower, low power) ARM cores on a single SoC. Software then acts as a traffic controller, routing processes to the appropriate core for what the process needs.

AMD also introduced an Opteron A-Series development kit in a Micro-ATX form factor, which should give you an idea of how small these servers are. It includes a system with a process, up to 128GB of DDR3 memory, PCI Express and SATA connectors, a Linux environment based on Fedora, standard Linux GNU tool chain, including a cross-development version, platform device drivers, Apache web server, MySQL database engine, PHP scripting and both Java 7 and Java 8 versions.

AMD will make the reference design available to developers starting in March, with server and OEM product announcements expected in Q4.

The ARM processors are targeted at the low power market for simple tasks like HTML page serving, something that Intel is targeting with Atom, particularly the C2000 "Avoton" processor, and ARM is aiming for with its server products. Calxeda was also targeting this market until it went belly up last month.

Testers haven't gotten their hands on the Opteron A1100 yet for testing, but it's believed it will have a lower power draw than AMD's current low-end offering, the Opteron X2150, based on the Jaguar x86 core.

So once again, AMD is first to market. I hope this time they can grab some share and hold on to it, if only for the sake of keeping the competition on their toes.

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