Seattle may own the Super Bowl but not the low voltage chip market

The new ARM Opterons are indeed low power, but Intel will not be out-engineered.

Last month, AMD announced the first ARM-powered Opteron server chips, the A1100, aka "Seattle."

At the time, ARM wasn't talking TDP (thermal design power) or performance per watt, so we were left to speculate that it would have a lower power draw than AMD's current low-end offering, the Opteron X2150, which is around 22 watts. A Xeon by comparison ranges from 95 watts to 130 watts and a standard Opteron is between 100 and 140.

ARM and its licensees have targeted the low-power server market but had a lot of work to do to bring important server features to a chip meant for smartphones. They had to make a 64-bit chip with error correcting code (ECC) memory at the very least. ARM is finally coming to market with the Cortex-A57 core, which AMD used in the Seattle chip generation.

Intel was actually first to market with a competitive chip designed for servers with the C2000, codenamed Avoton. Avoton is an Atom SoC made to be a server chip, as opposed to a repurposed mobile processor. It will have up to eight cores, access up to 64GB of memory, and includes integrated Ethernet networking.

So it will come down to a battle of Avoton vs. Seattle, but in this case, Avoton is not the Denver Broncos. Based on preliminary numbers, Avoton is ahead of the game.

AMD had a slide-show at the Open Compute Conference where it discussed the Opteron A line, which I've obtained. On the very last page was a little info not discussed at the show. AMD's simulations project a SpecInt_Rate benchmark for an eight-core Seattle processor to be about 80, with a projected TDP of between 22 and 25 watts.

That TDP is equal to the Opteron X2150, but it's for twice as many cores; eight in the A1100 vs. four in the X2150.

Now, let's make this clear and unambiguous: those are simulations. Reference designs are expected next month, silicon in Q4. So a lot can change.

That said, compare Seattle to Intel's Avoton, which is available to OEMs now. The C2000 with eight cores running at 2.4Ghz delivers SpecInt_rate of 108 at 20W TDP, which translates to about 35% more performance at 10-20% less power. And Avoton is a 20nm part. Intel has a 14nm part in the works that will likely run cooler, which should serve to Osborne the current Avoton.

It has to be repeated that we don't have final numbers, AMD is using simulations. And in the end, raw metal never wins. If it did, the Alpha processor would still be on the market. It will come down to the software ecosystems AMD and Intel build around these chips. They need a killer Linux setup at the base and a solid LAMP stack or the whole exercise is moot.

For now, it just shows you can't win an engineering fight with Intel.

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