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 Ghz
  • Mixed signal I/O features including PCIE Gen 3, SATA Gen 3, USB and workload accelerators, as well as a high-performance on-chip fabric
  • Enterprise class features including ECC (error-correcting code) and RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability)
  • Full virtualization support
  • Advanced power management
  • Integrated security features
  • ARM server base system architecture (SBSA) and server base boot requirements (SBBR) standards compliance
  • Unified extensible firmware interface (UEFI) compliant BIOS
  • Enterprise 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 networking
  • Boot and Power management firmware
  • ARM Trusted Firmware (ATF)
  • AMI AptioV UEFI BIOS with support for all the device peripherals, VGA and a configuration GUI
  • CentOS Operating System
  • GCC and LLVM tool chains
  • AMI MEGARAC BMC firmware for baseboard management
  • Built-in support for workload accelerators
  • Documentation 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. 

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  • 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.