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AMD debuts first ARM processor

Joab Jackson | Jan. 30, 2014
Samples of the Opteron four- and eight-core, 64-bit A1100 Series ARM processors will ship to AMD partners this quarter

On the software side, the development kits will have a Fedora ARM Linux distribution, with device drivers and commonly used Web tier applications such as the Apache Web server, MySQL database engine, and the PHP, Java 7 and Java 8 programming languages. It also includes the standard Linux GNU tool chain for developing applications. It is booted through a standard UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) secure boot environment.

AMD sees a fit for the new line of processors in servers that run Web applications and data center storage systems.

For well over the past decade, Intel's x86 processor architecture has dominated the market of data center servers, in part due to the chip's low cost from high-volume production, from Intel and even AMD itself.

An increasing number of IT vendors are viewing the ARM chips, which themselves are being produced in large volumes for smartphones and portable devices, as an appealing alternative to x86. They could be less expensive and consume less power while doing the same amount of work.

"One of the things we've learned in the computer industry is that small, low-power, low-cost, high-volume processors have always won," Feldman said.

Last year, more than 8 billion ARM processors were shipped. ARM does not manufacture processors but licenses the design to other companies. In contrast, about 13 million x86-based servers were shipped in the same time period, according to AMD.

ARM and other companies have been building an ecosystem around ARM to support it in the server space. ARM developed the 64-bit design specifically for servers, and interest in the open-source software community, around projects such as Apache, has grown as well. "We have thousands of engineers who are interested and passionate and want to be part of a wholesale change in infrastructure," Feldman said.

The larger data centers and hosting providers might be the first to consider ARM, and, over time, ARM may filter down to enterprise companies as well, Moorhead said.

Moorhead also noted that Intel is not going to cede its dominance in the server space so readily. It has invested billions of dollars into its Atom line of low-power server processors. "Intel has really accelerated its efforts on Atom," Moorhead said, noting the company is planning an SoC design for its Broadwell architecture to compete with the likes of AMD.

Feldman predicted by 2019, ARM processors will be used in a quarter of all data center servers. "At AMD, we intended to be the leader in ARM CPUs," Feldman said.

(James Niccolai in San Francisco contributed to this report.)



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