AMD Really Can't Wait to Launch This Important Product

AMD seems impatient to bring its ARM-based server chips out to system builders. And why not? This product line could be a game changer if AMD plays it right.

Jan 30, 2014 at 10:30AM

It's been just more than a year since Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) decided to build chips around platforms not inherited from PC processor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC). Then we saw a road map for 2014 where AMD's chips based on ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) technologies would sample in the first quarter of 2014 and go into full production in the second half of the year.

Well, AMD just put the pedal to the metal. The first AMD chip with ARM cores inside are scheduled for "imminent" sampling, and we're only one month into that first quarter.


AMD is aiming its ARM chips straight at the heart of traditional workloads for virtualized systems, like cloud computing and web servers. Image source: AMD marketing materials.

The product formerly known under the Seattle codename now has a proper title; the ARM-based server chips will be sold under the Opteron A moniker. The first such product, the Opteron A1100 series, will feature ARM Cortex A57 processor cores, running four or eight parallel cores at 2 GHz or more over a 64-bit system bus, coupled with server-class memory systems. Translation for the lesser geeks in the audience: These chips will be both faster and more reliable than your average ARM chip for smartphones and tablets.

The big selling point for these server chips, of course, won't be the straight-up number-crunching performance. Intel kind of has a lock on that market these days with its hard-to-match Haswell and upcoming Broadwell processors.

Instead, AMD is betting on extreme performance per watt. Data centers are bulging under the power and cooling needs of modern high-end processors, which is why it makes sense to import ultra-efficient designs from ARM's traditional mobile hunting grounds into this space.

These early ARM chips for the data center will bring "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," said Suresh Gopalakrishnan, AMD's VP of server products.

What is AMD doing right this time?
That remains to be seen, of course. But the platform springs to life fully formed, matched with AMD-vetted development tools and an optimized version of Red Hat 's open-sourced Fedora Linux system. It's a good start, and AMD looks ready to hit the ground running.

The press materials still place the release date for the final product in the second half of 2014, but I'd be surprised if it doesn't show up over the summer. AMD is clearly putting its back into getting this product out the door as early as possible, and for good reason. The first-mover advantage could be crucial to AMD's success in the ARM-based server space, and heaven knows there's a ton of other ARM chip vendors ready to pounce on any weakness.

And Intel may have sold its ARM license to Marvell in 2006, but still hopes to capture the low-power server market with its own line of Atom processors -- tweaked to move out of laptops and tablets, into the data center. Intel is a rival not to be taken lightly, even if the Atom line hasn't been burning up the charts so far.

So the time to move on radically low-power server chips is yesterday, and it's good to see AMD stepping up its game here.

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