New Applied Micro Chip Ready to Race with Intel Xeon

Original author: Michael Feldman

Applied Micro has announced the distribution of samples of X-Gene 3, a system on a chip for servers based on the third-generation ARM architecture. According to a Linley Group report, the new platform will deliver performance comparable to the latest Intel Xeon processors at a significantly lower cost.

Applied Micro, which is now part of MACOM, a semiconductor manufacturing company, officially unveiled the X-Gene 3 last November, but this week it became known about the distribution of chips and delivery to customers, which means that their free sale will begin already in this year. In addition to Applied Micro / MACOM, new developments on the ARM architecture in 2017 will also be launched on the market by Cavium and Qualcomm, ThunderX2 and Centriq 2400 SoCs processors, respectively.

X-Gene 3 scheme. The processor contains 32 cores, 32MB L3 cache, eight DDR4-2667 DRAM channels and 42 PCI Express Gen3 lines.

A comparative analysis of these technologies with each other and with the current leader of Intel Xeon server processors was made in the latest report by Linley Gwennap, chief analyst of The Linley Group and editor-in-chief of Microprocessor Report. Gwennap believes that the new X-Gene will handle the workloads of cloud computing as well or even better than Xeon, as with some high-performance computing applications. The new Applied Micro platform has been named the leader in performance by research.

The performance of the X-Gene 3 is the result of its relatively high clock speed and memory bandwidth. The processor runs on 32 cores with a base frequency of 3.0 GHz and can reach 3.3 GHz in turbo mode. The chip includes eight memory channels that can serve DDR4 devices with a frequency of up to 2667 MHz, providing a throughput of 170 GB / s. The on-chip system also includes 42 PCIe 3.0 lanes for external connections.

According to Gwennap, this has led to several impressive performance metrics. From the report:

“Based on testing the current configuration of the processor frequency of 3.0 GHz and DDR4-2400, we can expect that the chip will provide a SPECint_rate2006 (peak) score of at least 500 when operating at a maximum speed of 3.3 GHz and DDR4-2667 and with some additional hardware software and compiler. This figure is far ahead of that of any other ARM processor and is similar to that of the main Xeon E5 processors. "

A table comparison with comparable Intel Xeon processors is shown below:

Comparative table of characteristics of high-power server processors. X-Gene 3 has obvious advantages in memory bandwidth, not inferior in everything else.

Gwennap concludes that the current publicly available Xeons with more cores or higher clock speeds than the E5-2680 will perform better than the X-Gene 3. But these are high-end chips priced above $ 2,000, not aimed at the cloud computing market or enterprise client that Applied Micro is counting on.

As far as ARM competition is concerned, Gwennap claims that the X-Gene 3 is able to overtake both the latest version of the Cantium ThunderX2 SoC and the new Centriq 2400 chip from Qualcomm. Although the core performance of ThunderX2 per core should improve significantly, this model will not compete with the more productive X-Gene 3. Gwennap also suggests that Qualcomm's offer will have similar performance to ThunderX2, although he acknowledges that less is known about its technical capabilities.

The report also says that X-Gene 3 can handle "a wide range of cloud workloads, including application scaling." It should be especially well suited for the so-called. Big data applications (such as in-memory database processing) due to their superior throughput. Coincidentally (but is it a coincidence?) AMD announces the release of its new Naples x86 chip for very similar tasks on the same 8-channel circuit.

Important caveat: X-Gene 3 does not compete with Xeon regarding performance in floating point tasks, and this gap will only widen with the availability of AVX-enabled Skylake processors. This, however, does not apply to HPC applications. As an example, the study provides some types of bioinformatics applications that mainly use scalar processing. But for workloads in high-performance computing, X-Gene 3 will have to rely on a graphics processor or other floating point accelerator to provide competitive performance.

There is nothing particularly surprising in achieving performance comparable to Intel Xeon, but Applied Micro believes that it will be able to make a very advantageous offer for the server processor market. Although the specific pricing policy of X-Gene 3 has not yet been made public, they are likely to cut by one third the cost of the Xeon E5-2680 at $ 1,745. Other ARM chip makers will also try to compete with Intel. That, in turn, can always lower its prices or offer other financial incentives to reduce this difference in cost.

Which, apparently, she will have to use. Given the competition with AMD's marketed processor, Intel is likely to have to cut margins on Xeon products in order to maintain market share. In addition, Microsoft recently demonstrated its work with Cavium and Qualcomm to create ARM-based servers for their own data centers. The idea is to partially deploy them on the territory of companies, and partially in the Azure cloud. If the Microsoft gambit proves to be profitable, then soon we will all become witnesses of how many will start moving to ARM servers. It will be a pleasure to follow the most interesting market dynamics, all moves and counter-moves between all these chip manufacturers, which will unfold in the next 12 months.

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