Around 15 months ago, AMD announced that it would be building 64-bit ARM based SoCs for servers in 2014. Less than a month into 2014, AMD made good on its promise and officially announced the Opteron A1100: a 64-bit ARM Cortex A57 based SoC.

The Opteron A1100 features either 4 or 8 AMD Cortex A57 cores. There's only a single die mask so we're talking about harvested die to make up the quad-core configuration. My guess is over time we'll see that go away entirely, but since we're at very early stages of talking about the A1100 there's likely some hedging of bets going on. Each core will run at a frequency somewhere north of 2GHz. The SoC is built on a 28nm process at Global Foundries.

Each pair of cores shares a 1MB L2 cache, for a total of up to 4MB of L2 cache for the chip. All cores share a unified L3 cache of up to 8MB in size. AMD designed a new memory controller for the Opteron A1100 that's capable of supporting both DDR3 or DDR4. The memory interface is 128-bits wide and supports up to 4 SODIMMs, UDIMMs or RDIMMs. AMD will be shipping a reference platform capable of supporting up to 128GB of Registered DDR3 DIMMs off of a single SoC.

Also on-die is an 8-lane PCIe 3.0 controller (1 x8 or 2 x4 slot configurations supported) and an 8-port 6Gbps SATA controller. AMD assured me that the on-chip fabric is capable of sustaining full bandwidth to all 8 SATA ports. The SoC features support for 2 x 10GbE ports and ARM's TrustZone technology. 

AMD will be making a reference board available to interested parties starting in March, with server and OEM announcements to come in Q4 of this year. 

It's still too early to talk about performance or TDPs, but AMD did indicate better overall performance than its Opteron X2150 (4-core 1.9GHz Jaguar) at a comparable TDP:

AMD Opteron A1100 vs. X2150
  CPU Core Configuration CPU Frequency SPECint_rate Estimate SPECint per Core Estimated TDP
AMD Opteron A1100 8 x ARM Cortex A57 >= 2GHz 80 10 25W
AMD Opteron X2150 4 x AMD Jaguar 1.9GHz 28.1 7 22W

AMD alluded to substantial cost savings over competing Intel solutions with support for similar memory capacities. AMD tells me we should expect a total "solution" price somewhere around 1/10th that of a competing high-end Xeon box, but it isn't offering specifics beyond that just yet. Given the Opteron X2150 performance/TDP comparison, I'm guessing we're looking at a similar ~$100 price point for the SoC. There's also no word on whether or not the SoC will leverage any of AMD's graphics IP.

The Opteron A1100 is aimed squarely at those applications that either need a lot of low power compute or tons of memory/storage. AMD sees huge demand in the memcached space, cold storage servers and Apache web front ends. The offer is pretty simple: take cost savings on the CPU front and pour it into more DRAM.

Early attempts at ARM based server designs were problematic given the lack of a 64-bit ARM ISA. With ARMv8 and the Cortex A53/A57 CPUs, that's all changed. I don't suspect solutions like the Opteron A1100 to be a knockout success immediately, but this is definitely the beginning of something very new. Of all of the players in the ARM enterprise space, AMD looks like one of the most credible threats. It's also a great way for AMD to rebuild its enterprise marketshare with a targeted strike in new/growing segments. 

AMD's Andrew Feldman included one of his trademark reality check slides in his Opteron A1100 presentation today:

Lower cost, high volume CPUs have always won. That's how Intel took the server market to begin with. The implication here is that ARM will do the same to Intel. Predicting 25% of the server market by 2019 may be feasible, but I'm not fond of making predictions for what the world will look like 5 years from now. 

The real question is what architecture(s) AMD plans to use to get to a leadership position among ARM CPUs and a substantial share of the x86 CPU market. We get the first hint with the third bullet above: "smaller more efficient x86 CPUs will be dominant in the x86 segment".

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  • Mondozai - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    The name's fine, at least for those of us with grasp of English higher than that of a high schooler ;) Reply
  • meacupla - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    so wait... presumably the airflow is front to back, but they are using RAM and heatsink that is lined perpendicular to the airflow? Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    That's just the board for developers, a standard microATX which can be used in a regular case. AMD does not sell any motherboards. Reply
  • nofumble62 - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    25W chip. Where is the performance per watt or power saving that make people want to switch? Reply
  • BMNify - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    its assumed (i know you shouldn't with AMD PR) that that 25W is the total average amount at full speed using all the 8 cores and including all the internal integrated 10 GbE and the rest of the IP in use Reply
  • mczak - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    The comparison to X2150 is slightly unfair though. Because the X2150 includes a gpu (for compute purposes if you can leverage it). Its power consumption when not using that part is likely lower than those quoted 22W.
    The chips are different enough though that you can't really easily compare them, clearly indicating their different focus. The A1100 has more i/o, twice the memory channels - good for server market. Unlike the X2150 which is really a side-product of a chip intended for a different market. (Though I guess it's possible A1100 might also have a gpu in it without amd telling anyone just yet, but it seems unlikely.)
    Reply
  • twotwotwo - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    I doubt perf/watt will be the deciding thing for buyers since power for a server isn't much of its cost. (If someone used power-efficiency to get great *density* maybe that'd help, not sure.) Might have a secure niche as a cheap front-end to 128GB RAM and a pile of disks, though. Reply
  • watersb - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    Most data centers I've seen recently are limited by their cooling capacity, not necessarily cores per rack. Perf/Watt matters. Reply
  • Krysto - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    I think I've read somewhere that power consumption if 30 percent of the maintenance cost of a data center. So I think it matters. Reply
  • DarkXale - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    Power Consumption = Heat output

    And its keeping the heat under control thats challenging most data-centres.
    Reply

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