Back in 2013, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) launched a line of low-power server processors code-named Avoton. These processors are full systems-on-a-chip, with up to eight Silvermont cores and integration of many key components such as Ethernet and, in some flavors, dedicated networking accelerators. With this line, Intel has made it clear that it wants to leave no opening for the various server players from ARM Holdings (NASDAQ:ARMH) to make inroads.
Looking ahead, the follow-on to Avoton is known as Denverton, and it can be seen on Intel's public road map:
Notice that Intel doesn't disclose specific launch timing for the Denverton processor, only showing it as a "2015/Future" oriented part. However, thanks to some leaked information from CPU World, I think we can pin down the launch time frame of this particular processor.
Xeon D is coming in Q2/Q3, implying Q4 Denverton
According to CPU World, the first Xeon D processor will roll out in the second quarter of 2015, with the rest of the family coming in the third quarter of 2015. Note that on the road map, Denverton is shifted over in a very distinct fashion relative to the Xeon D family. This implies, at least to me, that Denverton will launch in the fourth quarter of 2015.
What do we know about Denverton? Unfortunately, not much
We know that Denverton directly follows the Avoton processor. It will be built on Intel's 14-nanometer manufacturing technology and probably sport more Atom cores and more integration than the Avoton chip. Beyond that, though, Intel hasn't given much in the way of technical specifics.
Interestingly enough, it's no longer clear which 14-nanometer low-power Atom core Intel will use for this part. My first guess would be the Airmont processor core, which is the direct successor to the Silvermont core. However, there is a chance that Intel could skip straight on to Goldmont (the successor to Airmont), as it is doing in the high end of the smartphone market with Broxton.
The next question, then, is what does the competitive landscape look like?
Revisiting the competitive landscape
At Intel's investor meeting, the company claimed that it faces competition from approximately 12 ARM-based server players. While I suspect that Intel is including more networking-focused players in this market, a few key server players that come to mind are:
Cavium noted on its most recent earnings call that it plans to begin sampling its 24-48-core ThunderX family of products "later this quarter." Given the typical lead times between "sampling" and "volume shipments" in this market, it seems likely that these products -- which are built on a 28-nanometer manufacturing technology -- will hit the market in the Q4 2015 timeframe alongside Intel's Denverton.
Applied Micro is shipping its first-generation 40-nanometer X-Gene part and claimed to be sampling its 28-nanometer X-Gene 2 at the Hot Chips conference in August. This would imply Q2/Q3 2015 volume deployments. Finally, Applied Micro expects to be sampling a third-generation X-Gene built on the 16-nanometer FinFET process in 2015, which implies commercial availability in 2016 if all goes as planned.
Denverton timing looks good, but the specifications will be key
The launch of Denverton in late 2015 looks as though it should be quite competitive, particularly as Intel will pit its 14-nanometer parts against 28-nanometer designs. That said, while Intel does have a material process node advantage against its competitors, the performance, power, and feature integration of the Denverton family of chips will be critical to determining whether it's ultimately a success.
Ashraf Eassa owns shares of ARM Holdings and Intel. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.