AMD showed off its first ARM-based “Seattle” processor running on a reference platform motherboard at an event in San Francisco earlier this week. The new chip, which began sampling in March, is slated for general availability in Q4 2014. The “Seattle” processor will be officially labeled the AMD Opteron A1100.
During the press event, AMD demonstrated the Opteron A1100 running on a reference design motherboard (the Seattle Development Platform). The hardware was used to drive a LAMP software stack including an ARM optimized version of Linux based on RHEL, Apache 2.4.6, MySQL 5.5.35, and PHP 5.4.16. The server was then used to host a WordPress blog that included stream-able video.
Of course, the hardware itself is the new and interesting bit and thanks to the event we now have quite a few details to share.
The Opteron A1100 features eight ARM Cortex-A57 cores clocked at 2.0 GHz (or higher). AMD has further packed in an integrated memory controller, TrustZone encryption hardware, and floating point and NEON video acceleration hardware. Like a true SoC, the Opteron A1100 supports 8 lanes of PCI-E 3.0, eight SATA III 6Gbps ports, and two 10GbE network connections.
The Seattle processor has a total of 4MB of L2 cache (each pair of cores shares 1MB of L2) and 8MB L3 cache that all eight cores share. The integrated memory controller supports DDR3 and DDR4 memory in SO-DIMM, unbuffered DIMM, and registered ECC RDIMM forms (only one type per motherboard) enabling the ARM-based platform to be used in a wide range of server environments (enterprise, SMB, and home servers et al).
AMD has stated that the upcoming Opteron A1100 processor delivers between two and four times the performance of the existing Opteron X series (which uses four x86 Jaguar cores clocked at 1.9 GHz). The A1100 has a 25W TDP and is manufactured by Global Foundries. Despite the slight increase in TDP versus the Opteron X series (the Opteron X2150 is a 22W part), AMD claims the increased performance results in notable improvements in compute/watt performance.
AMD has engineered a reference motherboard though partners will also be able to provide customized solutions. The combination of reference motherboard and ARM-based Opteron A1100 is known at the Seattle Development Platform. This reference motherboard features four registered DDR3 DIMM slots for up to 128GB of memory, eight SATA 6Gbps ports, support for standard ATX power supplies, and multiple PCI-E connectors that can be configured to run as a single PCI-E 3.0 x8 slot or two PCI-E 3.0 x4 slots.
The Opteron A1100 is an interesting move from AMD that will target low power servers. the ARM-based server chip has an uphill battle in challenging x86-64 in this space, but the SoC does have several advantages in terms of compute performance per watt and overall cost. AMD has taken the SoC elements (integrated IO, memory, companion processor hardware) of the Opteron X series and its APUs in general, removed the graphics portion, and crammed in as many low power 64-bit ARM cores as possible. This configuration will have advantages over the Opteron X CPU+GPU APU when running applications that use multiple serial threads and can take advantage of large amounts of memory per node (up to 128GB). The A1100 should excel in serving up files and web pages or acting as a caching server where data can be held in memory for fast access.
I am looking forward to the launch as the 64-bit ARM architecture makes its first major inroads into the server market. The benchmarks, and ultimately software stack support, will determine how well it is received and if it ends up being a successful product for AMD, but at the very least it keeps Intel on its toes and offers up an alternative and competitive option.