Intel and Tsinghua University to Co-Develop Semi-Custom Solutions for Serversby Anton Shilov on January 27, 2016 9:40 AM EST
At present, investors state that Intel controls 98% of the server processor market with its Xeon CPUs, but the server market is changing. Intel's acquisition of Altera is telling - many companies these days require chips with specific features and functionality, and as a result Intel has been making strides to add custom features to its processors. In an extension of this, this month Intel agreed to jointly work with Tsinghua University and Montage Technology to develop custom server platforms for servers used in China.
Under the terms of the agreement, Tsinghua University will develop a reconfigurable computing processor (RCP) module, as well as system software, that will work with a standard Intel Xeon CPU to add features that address requirements for specific applications in various market segments in Asia. The RCP will be made by outsourcing to a maker of semiconductors and it is likely that the government-controlled university may prefer to make the chip in the country or through a subsidiary.
The computing solution proposed consists of an Intel Xeon and a custom RCP, but will not be a multi-chip-module package designs like Intel’s Xeon processors with integrated Altera FPGAs. Instead we are told it will involve a different kind of packaging. Unfortunately, at present it is unclear whether Intel’s Xeon and Tsinghua’s RCP will communicate using known standards (such as the PCI Express interface, QPI, or other), or a custom protocol.
Intel, TU and Montage did not disclose a lot of technical details about their joint semi-custom solution for Chinese datacenters, but re-configurability of processors implies that the final product could address a broad range of market segments. We postulated that the RCP is just another name for an FPGA, although our sources were unable to confirm this.
Intel will ensure that its chips work with RCPs, and will supply CPU dies to Montage Technology which will market the whole solution to interested parties. Montage plans to sell the final product, which will consist of a standard Intel Xeon CPU, a reconfigurable computing processor developed by Tsinghua, as well as software, in 2017. There is no information about specifications of the Xeon processor lines that will be used, nor the capabilities of the RCP, which still leaves the question of what range of CPUs are being discussed, if it is sub-25W or 90W+.
The collaboration between Intel, Tsinghua University and Montage is aimed to better address demands of Chinese state-owned and other datacenters. Since China is one of the world’s largest markets for servers, the importance of jointly working with local companies is something that is becoming very important not only for Intel, but for all developers of server CPUs, especially as news emerged last year about how Intel and others can or cannot sell to various entities. Intel has arrangements similar to this already in place, such as the Rockchip engagement for some smartphone-based SoCs to be made and sold by Rockchip in Asia, as well as arrangements with Spreadtrum (which is owned by Tsinghua Unigroup, to which Tsinghua University has sole investment).