MACOM last week announced that it has entered into an agreement to sell the microprocessor-related assets it bought from AppliedMicro to Project Denver Holdings, a new company backed by The Carlyle Group asset management company.

MACOM closed the acquisition of AppliedMicro early in 2017. Back then, the company made no secret that it was primarily interested in Applied Micro’s MACsec and 100G to 400G solutions, but not in the company's X-Gene server CPUs. MACOM’s plan was to become a leader in datacenter communication technologies with a focus on optical networks in particular (analog, photonic and mixed-signal PHYs). That said, the X-Gene business was not exactly the best fit for MACOM and the future of the CPU division has been unclear.

The X-Gene 3 server platform looked promising when it was introduced last November. The CPU has 32 custom ARMv8 cores running at up to 3 GHz, with 32 MB of L3 cache, eight DDR4-2667 memory channels with ECC, and 42 PCIe 3.0 lanes. MACOM started to sample the X-Gene 3 among interested parties this March and Kontron even demonstrated a server based on the CPU at MWC 2017. MACOM has not started commercial shipments of the X-Gene 3 yet, nonetheless the X-Gene 3 and its possible successors were impressive enough for The Carlyle Group to establish a new entity that will finalize the X-Gene 3 and continue development efforts.

Neither MACOM nor Carlyle have disclosed the financial terms of the deal, but MACOM will get a minority stake in Project Denver Holdings. Speaking of the latter, it is necessary to say that the new company has its own leadership team and a strong financial backing from Carlyle Partners VI (which is a $13 billion U.S. buyout fund). Assuming that Project Denver Holdings will keep AppliedMicro’s development team and will invest sufficient amount of money in the X-Gene in general, the new company will have chances to remain a leading supplier of ARMv8-based server CPUs. At the moment, the X-Gene is used by over half of a dozen server makers, so Project Denver Holdings is getting a business with existing, incoming and future products as well as customers.

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Source: MACOM

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  • webdoctors - Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - link

    The ARM server market is tough, seems its been on life support for ~5 years and non-existent. Hopefully with more players entering the market (QCOM? AMD coming back??), SW devs and users will port more apps and expand the ecosystem.

    Not sure why the last slide has a Nvidia logo and a GPU card in it, those obviously aren't powered by X-Gene.
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - link

    These things have PCIe lanes and I assume PCIe slots. Why wouldn't you be able to shove an Nvidia cards into one of their mainboards and use it for the mentioned HPC stuff? If you aren't interested in Intels or AMDs big cores and just rely on GPU computing, this might be more cost efficient.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - link

    I doubt AMD will reopen their ARM efforts unless the market takes off. They don't have a lot of financial room for more projects. They'd probably be better off spending the money on trying to get their GPUs and x86 CPUs in data centers.

    The companies that seem to have the best chance to successfully put ARM chips into servers are Qualcomm, Cavium, and Project Denver. It's encouraging because they seem to be getting at least some support from various parts of the software ecosystem.
  • Dmcq - Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - link

    Agree with all that. As far as I can see the main aim of the early ARMv8 server chips was to fight Intel on networking and storage with the server market as a bight future target. That's what Broadcom and AppliedMicro looked to be doing but they have both been taken over by companies who aren't interested in that angle, Cavium is the only one left standing of the original lot and has taken over Broadcom's effort. It is interesting to see that X-Gene is still alive as well but I'd have thought they'd need to be joined up with some other company. Qualcomm is interesting in that it seems to be taking direct aim at the sever market despite having such a huge interest in wireless communication.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    Handset growth has stagnated, so I think Qualcomm is looking for more growth opportunities. Of course, they are well-positioned for 5G, but right now data center is where the growth is. I have read that hyperscalers have actually been encouraging Qualcomm to develop ARM server chips because they want more competition with Intel. Whether that's true or not, Qualcomm has deep pockets and experience designing ARM chips, so an ARM server chip is an obvious avenue for them to try to get into the data center. The fact that Intel has moved into baseband perhaps gives Qualcomm even more impetus.

    I think that trying to break into networking and storage servers seems like a good strategy. I also think that Cavium's "workload-optimized" strategy seems to make sense for data centers. But perhaps Intel is fighting hard on the sales side to prevent it from happening. Mostly what hyperscalers want is better bargaining power with Intel, so maybe they are happy just buying the Intel processors at cheaper prices than they would pay otherwise. Cavium also has relationships with data centers, though, and might be able to work their way in if they can develop a competitive processor. Obviously, through buying Vulcan IP from Broadcom they have indicated that they intend to expand their ARM server efforts.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    Oh, one other note. Both Vulcan and X-Gene were on the market at the same time and Cavium chose to buy Vulcan. Vulcan is reportedly a high power and high performance design, so the fact that Cavium chose Vulcan further suggests they want to expand into server CPUs aggressively.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    I think this Project Denver team might have to do a lot of work to turn X-Gene into something successful.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, November 2, 2017 - link

    Oh, one more little note. :D I think maybe part of the reason Cavium bought Q-Logic was to improve their data center relationships so that they could more easily place their server chips. To me, all signs point to Cavium wanting to aggressively pursue server chips, even if they are being low key about it.
  • mpbello - Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - link

    This is very significant. The resulting company will be the only company in the world that will have ARM server processors as its core business.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, October 31, 2017 - link

    Project Denver was NVIDIA's code name for their custom 64-bit ARMv8 CPU. I believe NVIDIA originally intended to develop it into a server chip, but significantly scaled back their efforts when the first push of ARM processors into servers didn't take hold. I wonder if this new company has been formed by former NVIDIA employees.

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