Ampere recently announced the availability of its first ARM-based server processor dubbed eMAG. The new chips use 16 or 32 custom CPU cores built upon the X-Gene 3 (once pioneered by Applied Micro) compatible with the 64-bit ARMv8-A instruction set. Ampere, in partnership with Lenovo (and several smaller unspecified ODMs), has started shipping eMAG to its customers and partners. Current eMAG processors are based on TSMC 16nm FinFET+ and Ampere plans to move future eMAG processors to TSMC’s 7nm node while adding support for multi-socket servers as soon as next year.
Ampere’s eMAG processors are designed for the datacenter with big data computing workloads in mind that benefit from large amounts of memory and cores including big data analytics, web serving, and in-memory databases. The new ARM server CPU entrant is designed to compete with the likes of Intel’s Xeon and AMD’s EPYC X86-64 processors as well as other ARM-based offerings from Cavium and Qualcomm. Early reports suggest that eMAG is no slouch in performance, but where it really excels is in price to performance, performance per core per dollar, and total cost of ownership metrics.
Today’s eMAG processors feature either 16 or 32 custom ARM cores clocked at 3.0 GHz base and up to 3.3 GHz turbo with 32KB I-cache, 32KB D-cache (L1) per core, 256KB L2 cache which is shared between two paired cores, and a global shared 32MB L3 cache. There are eight DDR4 memory controllers (up to 1TB DDR4-2667 using 16 DIMMs for up to 170.7 GB/s memory bandwidth) as well as 42 lanes of PCI-E 3.0 I/O. The CPU cores, cache, and controllers are connected using a switch that is part of a coherent fabric. Additional I/O support includes four SATA 3 and two USB 2.0 along with 10GbE. The eMAG processors have a 125W TDP.
Perhaps most interesting is the pricing which Ampere has set at a rather aggressive $550 for the 16-core chip and $850 for the 32-core processor. The Ampere chips are interesting especially following Qualcomm’s seeming loss of interest in this space as it dialed back its Centriq efforts earlier this year. With a new ARM entrant that reduces the datacenter barrier to entry for workloads that need lots of acceptable performance cores paired with lots of memory and AMD’s renewed datacenter push on all fronts, Intel is going to have its work cut out for it when it comes to maintaining its datacenter dominance. At the very least it may shake up server CPU pricing. Further, perhaps beyond its intended use, these ARM-based offerings may also introduce some new server platforms that are accessible to enthusiast virtual lab-ers and small HPC developers (small shops, universities, etc) that can use lower cost systems like these for testing and research into developing highly parallelized code that will eventually be run on higher end servers in the “hyperscale” data center.
I am curious to see if the eMAG will live up to its performance claims and expectations of competing with the big players in this space. According to ExtremeTech, Ampere claims the 32-core eMAG is able to match the Intel Xeon Gold 6130 (16 core / 32 thread, 2.1-3.7 GHz, 22MB L3, and 125W TDP) in SPEC CINT2006 benchmarks. The company further claimed earlier this year that eMAG would offer up to 90% performance per dollar versus Xeon Silver and 40% higher performance per dollar compared to Xeon Gold processors from Intel.
What are your thoughts on eMAG and ARM in the server space?