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ARM Ready to Take on Intel in Servers

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ARM plc has confirmed that within the next 12 months its architecture, which is currently used primarily in cell phones and consumer electronics, will also be used in servers — pitting it against the lifeblood of Intel’s (s intc) chip business. Speaking with EETimes, Warren East, the CEO of ARM (s armh), said servers using ARM-based chips should appear within the year.

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to our readers, since I profiled Smooth-Stone, one company trying to build low-power servers earlier this month, and in that same post pointed to ARM’s server ambitions. And it’s not just startups that are interested in using the low-power ARM architecture inside data centers, either. Google (s goog) recently acquired a secretive startup called Agnilux that was rumored to be making a server with the ARM architecture. We also reported on a Microsoft (s msft) job listing that sought a software development engineer with experience running ARM in the data center for the company’s eXtreme Computing group.

For the last couple of decades, Intel’s x86 chips have gained dominance in the data center, but as power considerations begin to outweigh the benefits of a cheap, general purpose processor, other chip makers have started to smell blood. Nvidia (s nvda) is pushing its graphics processors for some types of applications, while Texas Instruments is researching the use of DSPs inside servers. So ARM’s server ambitions aren’t so far-fetched, and because of its ubiquity it may have the best chance at success, especially as more and more software is written for mobiles where ARM dominates. East told EETimes:

The architecture can support server application as it is. The implementations [of ARM] have traditionally been aimed at relatively low performance optimized for minimum power consumption. But we are seeing higher speed, multicore implementations now pushing up to 2-GHz. The main difference for a server processor is the addition of high-speed communications interfaces.

Smooth-Stone, for example, says it has developed intellectual property at the silicon level to handle the communications between the myriad ARM-based processors that would be needed inside a server. However, ARM isn’t the only low-power solution in the server world. Intel’s best hope may lie in companies using its low-power Atom chips to build greener boxes. I’m hoping we’ll hear more about ARM’s server ambitions when Ian Feurgeson, the director of enterprise and embedded solutions at ARM and the guy in charge of the company’s server ambitions, speaks at our Structure 10 conference in June.

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20 Responses to “ARM Ready to Take on Intel in Servers”

  1. I am not surprised at all, while Intel is moving down and ARM is taking it place to become the dominant CPU Company in the world, there is very little Intel can do to stop ARM marching forward. I have today learnt that the WinTel monopoly it enjoyed for decade has come to and end, this is because Microsoft has purchased an ARM advanced license so that they can port the new window 8 for ARM.

    There are also rumours that Microsoft may go alone the way apple has gone and create it own CPU based on the ARM design reference such as the A4 from apple developed using ARM design.

  2. Jacob Varghese

    I’m sure we will hear that Apple’s interest in chip companies isn’t limited to mobile device use. Considering the issues with availability of Intel’s chips this year, i’m confident that the Apple OS crew is working on porting Mac OS over to the ARM architecture.

    • I dont buy it. Apple is first in line and will never not ship a PC due to lack of processors. And we haven’t heard of large scale supply issues across the board. And with the code base recently transitioning from PPC -> x86, looks like a huge distraction/risk porting to yet another architecture. they have drawn the lines – notebooks and up – x86, ipad and down – ARM based architecture. I think they will focus their energies on other, more interesting things like building truly differentiated Si devices for their custom use. just my idle thoughts..

  3. Looks like Arm and GPGPU chips are making big inroads this year. That will sure help the low powered computers. . . maybe we will finally get notebooks that will have great battery life and we wont have to listen to fans all the time.