AMD’s datacenter ARM processors finally hit the market

AMD logoAMD has started volume shipments of its "Seattle" Opteron A1100 ARM processors, designed for high density server systems.

First announced in 2014, the processors have four or eight 64-bit A57 ARM cores running at 1.7 or 2GHz. The chips have up to 4MB of level 2 cache (organized as 1MB per core pair), 8MB of level 3 cache, and two memory channels supporting both DDR3 and DDR4. With 32GB registered DDR4 DIMMs, the chips support a total of 128GB RAM. The chips also include a secondary A5 processor for system control and a coprocessor with accelerated encryption and compression capabilities. The processor cores are paired with a ton of I/O. There are 8 PCIe 3 lanes, 14 SATA3 ports, and two 10GbE ports.

There are three models in total. Two are 8-core parts, both with a 32W TDP, running at 2 or 1.7GHz. The third is a 4-core, 1.7GHz part, with a 25W TDP.

AMD has been vague about both pricing and performance. The company says that the top-end part will cost around $150, with the others coming in below. This is quite a bit cheaper than Intel's Xeon D processors, which pack Broadwell-class processor cores with a bunch of I/O connectivity. These parts start at $199 and go up as high as $675. However, AMD concedes that the Xeon Ds are considerably faster. The company says that Intel's 2013-era Atom-based C2000 series systems-on-chips are a better comparison for these new models.

AMD Opteron A1100

Price-wise, this comparison makes more sense—these processors cost between $43 and $171—but the performance implications are significant. AMD has refused to offer benchmark scores, but for it to be pricing and pitching its new processors against ones that are now two-and-a-half years old suggests that the A1100 range isn't going to blow anyone's socks off.

AMD Opteron A1100

AMD's expectation is that the processors will be used in two main ways. The first is for Web serving, with Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, and Java all available. There will also be operating system support from Linux vendors including Red Hat and SUSE. The second use is to power networking and storage infrastructure, utilizing the processors to build software-defined network and storage appliances.

AMD Opteron A1100 CPUs

AMD isn't the first to produce an ARM processor for servers, but it's arguably the biggest and best credentialed. With its Opteron line, the company has been building enterprise processors for more than a decade now, and that may translate into a greater level of trust and confidence in the company's products. But while that may be a good reason to pick AMD, it's less clear why datacenter operators would pick ARM processors in the first place. ARM processors are still less scalable than x86 ones, and they offer nothing to rival the high-end Xeon (or Opteron) parts. Even in the space where the two can compete, x86 processors have the edge in terms of software compatibility and hardware diversity. With price and performance appearing to be in line with that of x86 chips, the question of "why ARM?" remains. Thus far, neither AMD nor anyone else has truly provided a compelling answer to this question.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: AMD, ARM, CPUs, Opteron, servers

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