Intel launches a Xeon-based SoC to push back on ARM

With the Xeon D, it's taking the fight to ARM in a new way.

In case you missed it, and you likely did with the Apple Watch announcement sucking all the air out of the room, Intel just took a shot across the bow at ARM's data center ambitions with a new System-on-a-Chip based on the Xeon core.

ARM's data center ambitions are no secret, and a number of vendors are working on server products using the ARM core technology, like HP's Project Moonshot and AMD's Opteron 1100 processor line.

Well, now the empire strikes back. Intel's SoCs have been primarily Atoms, a cut down x86 and aimed at tablets, low-end laptops and devices like Chromebooks but with the new Xeon D, Intel has a SoC for microservers.

The Xeon D line is based on Intel's 14nm Broadwell architecture and built on Intel's 14nm process technology. Because this is the big brother of the x86 line, it delivers up to 3.4 times faster performance per node and up to 1.7 times better performance per watt compared to the company's Atom C2750 SoC.

But that's not the real selling point. ARM has always been a mobile device play and its server ambitions have required considerable work to add server technologies that are mandatory, like scalability and error correction code in memory.

That's where Intel has ARM over a barrel. The Xeon D is at its heart a Xeon, a mature processor technology almost two decades old that powers most of the top 500 supercomputers and the vast majority of business servers, cloud deployments and Big Data systems in the world. Xeon has added numerous server class reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) features over the years.

Intel said that it has more than 50 systems currently in the design stages, three-quarters of which are network, storage, and Internet of Things (IoT) designs. Intel is also targeting cloud service providers with hyperscale data centers who might want to deploy microservers to process lightweight workloads like dynamic Web serving, memory caching, Web hosting, and warm storage.

There are two processors in the Xeon D line for now, the D-1540 and D-1520. The D-1540 has 8 cores with HyperThreading, runs at 2GHz and has a TDP of 45 watts while the D-1520 has 4 cores, runs at 2.2GHz and has the same 45W TDP. Both chips have memory controllers capable of accessing up to 128GB memory.

System providers currently designing microservers based on the Intel Xeon processor D family include Cisco, HP, NEC, Quanta Cloud Technology, Sugon and Supermicro. The processors are available now while hardware systems are expected to be available in the second half of this year.

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