Comms chips

Qualcomm Challenges Intel With New ARM Chip

Qualcomm has begun sampling the ARM-based chip it has been developing to go head-to-head with Intel in the data center market.

Although Qualcomm's intention to compete with Intel has been clear, the company still had a surprise up its sleeve. Intel had pushed the state of the art in CPU manufacturing to 14nm using FinFET technology, but Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM) with the first of its new Centriq processors has skipped forward to the 10nm node, also using FinFET. The company had previously produced chips for smartphones at 10nm.

Simply taking the step to the next smallest processing node provides an automatic improvement in a set of performance characteristics. Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies, the Qualcomm subsidiary responsible for developing the new Centriq processor, was light on specifications for the device, but if it doesn't outperform Intel's chips; at 10nm it is likely to have at worst rough parity with them.

The Centriq 2400 series features Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies' custom ARMv8-compliant core (named Falkor) which is optimized for datacenter workloads. Qualcomm's Centriq 2400 series can have up to 48 cores (Intel's Xeon processors also currently max out at 48 cores).

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has a near monopoly on the server market with its Xeon processors, the latest in a very long line of processors based on the company's x86 architecture. Competitors believe that Intel has nothing but market share to lose, and that processors based on the ARM architecture have a natural advantage in terms of lower power consumption, a performance aspect that has profound ramifications for improving data center performance and reducing data center costs.

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Cavium Inc. (Nasdaq: CAVM), for instance, has an ARM-based processor, also coming in 2017, designed to nibble at the edges of the server market. (See Cavium Debuts SoC for Data Center Servers.)

Meanwhile, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD) is also developing a line of processors based on a new architecture the company is calling Zen. The first 32-core instances will be aimed at gaming platforms, but AMD will follow later in the year with 48-core models optimized for data center applications.

IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) is also aiming at the same space with devices based on its Power9 technology.

And of course there is Intel, which is not only hard at work on the next generation of Xeons, but which recently licensed ARM itself. Though that license agreement was mostly about Intel doing foundry work for other companies with ARM-based products, Intel could presumably build its own ARM-based processors should the need arise. (See Intel Gives Up ARM Wrestling.)

Qualcomm demonstrated the new Centriq processors running Apache Spark and Hadoop on Linux and Java.

The company said the Centriq 2400 processor series is "now sampling to key prospective customers and is expected to be commercially available in the second half of 2017."

— Brian Santo, Senior Editor, Components, T&M, Light Reading

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