Computer Electronics

Cavium Goes 48-core With ARM Server SoC

03 June 2014

Fabless networking chip firm Cavium Inc. (San Jose, Calif.) has launched its 64-bit ThunderX CN88XX processor for ARM-based servers. The processor is based on an ARMv8 architectural license from ARM Holdings plc, rather than a supplied core, and this has allowed Cavium to squeeze 48 cores operating at up to 2.5-GHz on to the 28nm silicon.

The announcement, made at the opening of the Computex exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan, comes approximately two years after the company announced it had signed a license deal with ARM.

The chip comes with a variety of interface ports of the Ethernet and PCIe varities plus memory ports and support for scalable networking. This can be disabled to allow Cavium to supply four different products.

However, all of them are aimed at server computers and other equipment used in data centers and cloud infrastructure. The variants of ThunderX are optimized for the compute, storage, networking and secure compute, Cavium said. The ThunderX processors will be offered alongside Octeon and Nitrox processor families. Octeon processors are based on core licenses from MIPS, now part of Imagination Technologies Group plc.

Two years ago Cavium was aiming to provide a factor of 10 improvement in the price, performance, power envelop over rivals' alternatives. Now Cavium claims ThunderX is the highest performing 64-bit ARM server SoC that has been power optimized. It's not quite the same but could still gain Cavium some design wins as other ARM server SoCs seem to be at 8 cores.

Cavium was also able to announce partnerships and collaborations with Oracle, MontaVista, Gigabyte Technology, American Megatrends and Fedora Project and openSuse in support of the ThunderX introduction.

Cavium describes the ThunderX CN88XX as a workload optimized processor that is compliant with ARM’s Server Base System Architecture (SBSA) standard. The 48 cores on the SoC have 78kbytes of instruction cache and 32-kbytes of data cache along with a 16-Mbyte level 2 cache. The SoC provides the ability to preserve cache coherency across all the cores and two chips using Cavium Coherent Processor Interconnect.

"With 48 cores, ThunderX far exceeds the per-socket performance of any ARM server processor yet announced. This achievement draws on Cavium's long experience with large multi-core processors," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, in a statement issued by Cavium. "ThunderX will enable Cavium to be the first ARM-based vendor to deliver the performance and features required by today’s volume server market at half the power and significantly lower cost compared to competing solutions. This announcement shows that the ARM camp is making progress in the server market, with Cavium leading the way."

At one stage down from the CN88XX, the ThunderX CN87XX consists of 8 to 16 cores in single socket configuration with two DDR3/4 controllers, multiple 10GbE, SATAv3 and PCIe Gen3 interfaces. This family is cost and power optimized for entry-level applications such as cold storage, distributed content delivery, dedicated hosting, distributed memory caching and embedded and control plane.

However, although Cavium has launched the ThunderX processors they are not yet available for ordinary customers. The processors and a range of hardware reference platforms will be available for general sampling early in 4Q14, Cavium said.

Related links and articles:

News articles:

AMD's 'Skybridge' Roadmap Includes ARM, X86 Cores

As One ARM Pioneer Closes Another One Opens

Processors Focus on Data Center at ISSCC

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