Over the summer, AMD introduced its Naples platform which is the server-focused implementation of the Zen microarchitecture in a SoC (System On a Chip) package. The company showed off a prototype dual socket Naples system and bits of information leaked onto the Internet, but for the most part news has been quiet on this front (whereas there were quite a few leaks of Ryzen which is AMD's desktop implementation of Zen).

The wait seems to be finally over, and AMD appears ready to talk more about Naples which will reportedly launch in the second quarter of this year (Q2'17) with full availability of processors and motherboards from OEMs and channel partners (e.g. system integrators) happening in the second half of 2017. Per AMD, "Naples" processors are SoCs with 32 cores and 64 threads that support 8 memory channels and a (theoretical) maximum of 2TB DDR4-2667. (Using the 16GB DIMMs available today, Naples support 256GB of DDR4 per socket.) Further, the Naples SoC features 64 PCI-E 3.0 lanes. Rumors also indicated that the SoC included support for sixteen 10GbE interfaces, but AMD has yet to confirm this or the number of SATA/SAS ports offered. AMD did say that Naples has an optimized cache structure for HPC compute and "dedicated security hardware" though it did not go into specifics. (The security hardware may be similar to the ARM TrustZone technology it has used in the past.) 

Naples will be offered in single and dual socket designs with dual socket systems offering up 64 cores, 128 threads, 32 DDR4 DIMMs (512 GB using 16 GB modules) on 16 total memory channels with 21.3 GB/s per channel bandwidth (170.7 GB/s per SoC), 128 PCI-E 3.0 lanes, and an AMD Infinity Fabric interconnect between the two processor sockets.

AMD claims that its Naples platform offers up to 45% more cores, 122% more memory bandwidth, and 60% more I/O than its competition. For its internal comparison, AMD chose the Intel Xeon E5-2699A V4 which is the processor with highest core count that is intended for dual socket systems (there are E7s with more cores but those are in 4P systems). The Intel Xeon E5-2699A V4 system is a 14nm 22 core (44 thread) processor clocked at 2.4 GHz base to 3.6 GHz turbo with 55MB cache. It supports four channels of DDR4-2400 for a maximum bandwidth of 76.8 GB/s (19.2 GB/s per channel) as well as 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes. A dual socket system with two of those Xeons features 44 cores, 88 threads, and a theoretical maximum of 1.54 TB of ECC RAM.

AMD's reference platform with two 32 core Naples SoCs and 512 GB DDR4 2400 MHz was purportedly 2.5x faster at the seismic analysis workload than the dual Xeon E5-2699A V4 OEM system with 1866 MHz DDR4. Curiously, when AMD compared a Naples reference platform with 44 cores enabled and running 1866 MHz memory to a similarly configured Intel system the Naples platform was twice as fast. It seems that the increased number of memory channels and memory bandwidth are really helping the Naples platform pull ahead in this workload.

The company also intends Naples to power machine learning and AI projects with servers that feature Naples processors and Radeon Instinct graphics processors.

AMD further claims that its Naples platform is more balanced and suited to cloud computing and scientific and HPC workloads than the competition. Specifically, Forrest Norrod the Senior Vice president and General Manager of AMD's Enterprise, Embedded, and Semi-Custom Business Unit stated:

“’Naples’ represents a completely new approach to supporting the massive processing requirements of the modern datacenter. This groundbreaking system-on-chip delivers the unique high-performance features required to address highly virtualized environments, massive data sets and new, emerging workloads.”

There is no word on pricing yet, but it should be competitive with Intel's offerings (the E5-2699A V4 is $4,938). AMD will reportedly be talking data center strategy and its upcoming products during the Open Compute Summit later this week, so hopefully there will be more information released at those presentations.

(My opinions follow)

This is one area where AMD needs to come out strong with support from motherboard manufacturers, system integrators, OEM partners, and OS and software validation to succeed. Intel is not likely to take AMD encroaching on its lucrative server market share lightly, and AMD is going to have a long road ahead of it to regain the market share it once had in this area, but it does have a decent architecture on its hands to build off of with Zen and if it can secure partner support Intel is certainly going to have competition here that it has not had to face in a long time. Intel and AMD competing over the data center market is a good thing, and as both companies bring new technology to market it will trickle down into the consumer level hardware. Naples' success in the data center could mean a profitable AMD with R&D money to push Zen as far as it can – so hopefully they can pull it off.

What are your thoughts on the Naples SoC and AMD's push into the server market?

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