SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Intel Corp. is sampling an Atom-based system-on chip for servers, a company executive said at a press conference here announcing a new low-power system using one of its Xeon processors.
The Atom-based chip is a previously announced sub-10W, 64-bit device with a PCI Express interface, supporting ECC memory and Intel’s virtualization and hyperthreading technology. Given the hyperthreading support, it is likely a dual-core part.
The part is “at a performance, power and cost level we like, and in 2013 we plan a part an order of magnitude above it,” said Jason Waxman, general manager of Intel’s data center group.
Waxman was on hand for the announcement of a low-power, highly dense Xeon-based server from SeaMicro, a startup that previously built only Intel Atom-based servers. SeaMicro rolled a new generation of its system ASIC capable of linking over PCI Express to either Atom or Xeon CPUs.
The new 1W ASIC is at the heart of SeaMicro’s new SM10000-XE server that packs up to 64 Intel Xeon E3-1260L processors into a 10U chassis consuming up to 3.5 kW. The startup claims the system, now available for prices starting at $138,000, uses half the power while offering three times the density of competing systems.
The SeaMicro ASIC links over PCI Express to an Intel hub chip. It uses its own fabric as a cluster interconnect, linking processors in the chassis and providing external Ethernet and storage connections.
Each board in the chassis uses four of SeaMicro's 90nm fabric ASICs, designed in an older process for highest yields. The chips also shut down unneeded blocks in the Intel hub chip, brininging it and the CPU to about 30W down from about 45W
“This is the most efficient Xeon server ever built,” said Andrew Feldman, founder and chief executive of SeaMicro, predicting the new system could outpace sales of its existing Atom-based systems.
“We will definitely sell more Xeon systems because Atom is a newer footprint and slower to be adopted while Xeon is in mainstream of what people use today,” said Feldman.
He claimed business was “phenomenal” in 2011, the startup’s first full year of sales, exceeding combined sales of hot startups such as 3Par, Aruba and others combined in their first full years. Users from Mozilla and a U.S. government security reseller said they have purchased at least five of the systems each, a mix of Atom and Xeon systems.
Long term, SeaMicro wants to eliminate the Intel hub chip from its boards to lower power and increase density, something the new Atom chip will enable. The startup also aims to support a mix of Xeon and Atom processors in a chassis, Feldman said.
Feldman was also on hand for the announcement late last year of Applied Micro’s X-Gene, a 64-bit ARM server SoC due to sample late this year and be in production in 2013.
No one has a 64-bit ARM server SoC available yet, noted Feldman. “With 90 percent server market share, the ball’s in Intel’s court to be best in class, and we will use processors customers are demanding,” he said.
“We take nothing for granted and expect ARM licensees to be formidable competitors,” said Waxman.
Startup Calxeda announced a 32-bit ARM server SoC shipping late this year that Hewlett-Packard is building into a prototype system. In addition, Marvel announced in late 2010 a quad-core ARM server SoC.
Waxman said Intel continues to estimate that by 2015 about ten percent of the total server market of roughly $50 billion a year could be for what it calls microservers. Such systems are similar to those of SeaMicro in that they use a single processor chip per node, sport low power, a relatively small memory footprint and shared resources such as Ethernet links.
SeaMicro has taken in $60 million in venture financing to date. It also received a $9.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. The company has no plans to raise another venture round in 2012, but may need to do so before it hits profitability, Feldman said.