Former Intel President Takes Aim At Intel’s Server Business With ARM-Based Chips

Former Intel president Renee James, backed by the Carlyle Group private equity firm, launched a new server chip company called Ampere that plans to use the ARM architecture to compete against Intel in the data center market.

X-Gene 3 Reborn?

X-Gene 3 was an ARM-based microarchitecture developed by AppliedMicro and officially launched in 2016. AppliedMicro was acquired by Macom, and Macom started sampling X-Gene 3 to customers in early 2017. Later last year, Macom ended up selling the X-Gene CPU business to a company owned by the Carlyle Group.

According to Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at the Linley Group, Ampere’s new server chip product is based on the X-Gene 3 microarchitecture. We asked Ampere if this was true, and the company confirmed that it purchased assets and IP from Macom. However, the company also mentioned that Ampere has a new team, which includes former employees of Intel, among which is Renee James, Intel’s former President. Ampere added that it has been adding to the Macom technology and plans to take the chip to production later this year.

Ampere Server Chip Specifications

Ampere promises that its chips will be able to offer higher density and bandwidth compared to currently deployed hardware with as good or better performance, as well as a significant reduction in power consumption and operating costs.

Some of the features of its ARM server processors will include:

ARMV8 custom 64-bit CPU core operating at up to 3.3 GhzMixed signal I/O features including PCIE Gen 3, SATA Gen 3, USB and workload accelerators, as well as a high-performance on-chip fabricEnterprise class features including ECC (error-correcting code) and RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability)Full virtualization supportAdvanced power managementIntegrated security featuresARM server base system architecture (SBSA) and server base boot requirements (SBBR) standards complianceUnified extensible firmware interface (UEFI) compliant BIOSEnterprise grade operating system support

Ampere has also built a development platform for companies that want to use its server chips. The Ampere development platform includes features such as:

19” chassis with an evaluation board featuring a built-in power supply, DRAM memory, storage disks and networkingBoot and Power management firmwareARM Trusted Firmware (ATF)AMI AptioV UEFI BIOS with support for all the device peripherals, VGA and a configuration GUICentOS Operating SystemGCC and LLVM tool chainsAMI MEGARAC BMC firmware for baseboard managementBuilt-in support for workload acceleratorsDocumentation and collateral

Server Chip Competition Heating Up (In A Good Way)

Although Intel currently dominates virtually the whole server chip market, last year we saw a number of strong players go after Intel’s server business, including AMD with EPYC, Qualcomm with its 10nm Centriq 2400-series, and Cavium with ThunderX2.

These competitors may not necessarily beat Intel in single-core performance, but single-core performance is far less important in the server market, where a company could host thousands of cores. That’s where total cost of ownership, power efficiency, and performance per dollar become much more important purchasing factors.

These are factors that could be exploited by Intel’s competitors by offering more cores at similar or lower price points, more efficient cores, or other features that Intel may not be able to offer because it has to take a more mass-market approach compared to its nimbler competitors.

AppliedMicro’s X-Gene 3 has always looked like a promising competitor to Intel's server chips. However, it never came to market because AppliedMicro wasn’t able to deliver on its promises on time, largely due to financial issues. Ampere is now backed by an experienced leader in the chip industry as well as a financially wealthy group, so it may have a better shot at succeeding where AppliedMicro failed. 

Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.
  • jimmysmitty
    The issue isn't just the CPU performance but the entire platform. There is more to it than just the chip and Intel knows that. It is one of the main aspects Intel has over their competition in the consumer market is that their platform evolves faster and in the Data Center market the platform always needs to be top of the line.
  • shrapnel_indie
    Renee James, Intel’s former President, from what I understand is running the show at this new chip company:

    techcrunch (and hence, Yahoo!,) is trying to make it sound like the tech is completely brand new... at least to those who don't know about the buyout of the underlying tech.
  • ZolaIII
    It's not that simple... This is a really bad pamphlet instead of the article! They aren't aiming at HPC but cloud data storage & generally network IO one's & the team has much more interesting person's than former Intel president.

    There you have a good interview all do a bit boring.
  • WyomingKnott
    If they are proof against certain well-known hardware security vulnerability issues, this could get interesting. What a selling point.
  • bit_user
    Thanks for the details, but I wish they included things like core count, memory channels & speeds, PCIe lanes, and TDP numbers.
  • bit_user
    20677386 said:
    It's not that simple... This is a really bad pamphlet instead of the article! They aren't aiming at HPC but cloud data storage & generally network IO
    In fairness to Lucian, the article didn't state anything about HPC and did specifically reference the data center market.
  • shrapnel_indie
    20686649 said:
    Thanks for the details, but I wish they included things like core count, memory channels & speeds, PCIe lanes, and TDP numbers.

    The Yahoo/TechCrunch articles look like they state that these "new" CPUs have a TDP of 125W. Other details were indeed missing.