SAN JOSE, Calif. ó Marvell Technology Group Ltd. aims to supply silicon for ARM-based servers with 40-nm multicore processors it will ship this year. It is working with multiple partners including one that hopes to port a server version of Microsoft Windows to ARM.
"We have on the road map quad-core symmetric multiprocressing enterprise ARM-based SoCs that will be here soon," said Simon Milner, vice president of Marvell's enterprise group. "There's a huge opportunity here because the market is x86 dominated and ARM can bring power consumption breakthroughs into this space," he said.
The new chips will offer more than a five-fold reduction in power consumption compared to x86 processors that dominate the server market, Marvell claims. Earlier this year, Marvell announced its Armada 310 that runs at a gigahertz while consuming 700 milliW and will scale to 2 GHz at less than a Watt, Milner said.
"We will springboard off that, tiling multiple cores in 40-nm technology with a rich set of I/Os and those will roll out this year," he said.
Marvell worked with ARM Ltd. to develop a demonstration of a Web server running existing Marvell dual-core ARM processors at ARM's Silicon Valley offices. "There was a lot of tuning of the software needed to get the right performance, but overall it was a smooth roll out," Milner said.
"We are on par [with the x86] in performance today and have a detailed road map that will really push performance up," said Milner.
In terms of price, there is a huge gap between Intel's Xeon chips some of which sell for several hundred dollars and the typical multicore ARM chip that may sell for about $35. That gives Marvell plenty of room to carve out its own profits.
"There will be a premium" for the ARM server chips, Milner said. "They will not be selling at cellphone [chip] prices," he added.
Marvell and ARM are working with "multiple Tier 1 companies" to build larger trial deployments to validate ARM as a server platform. Separately, Marvell has opened up its dual-core architecture, drivers and board support package so partners can create server software needed to support the new market initiative.
At least one partner is working on a port of a server version Microsoft Windows to ARM, and has access to some of the low level code needed for that job. "That is a large undertaking," said Milner.
Other partners are working on ports to ARM of x86 virtualization software also strategic for the server market. Some server customers are asking for 64-bit support, but "subsets of the server market can be addressed with 32 bits," Milner said.
For Marvell, the server initiative is one in a series of efforts since it acquired from Intel the XScale ARM design and an ARM architectural license.
"We have had significant success in the last five years taking ARM into new segments such as communications infrastructure and networking systems," he said.