SAN JOSE – Texas Instruments is moving its line of Keystone II SoCs beyond cellular base stations to target coprocessing jobs in servers. However, TI does not plan to deliver members of the family aimed at the increasingly crowded market for ARM-based server host processors.
TI already has at least one unannounced Keystone II design win as a media coprocessor in a server. It also hopes to get the chips designed into high-performance computers for applications such as oil and gas exploration.
“There will be a lot of server-style apps we will be involved in, but directly replacing server blades is unlikely,” said Tom Flanagan, a director of technology strategy at TI.
TI announced in February its first Keystone II products using up to four ARM Cortex A15 cores as well as multiple C66x DSPs and hardware supporting network switching, packet processing and media acceleration. The parts are mainly focused on cellular base stations, but TI’s strategy is to seek design wins in and beyond such systems.
“We will follow our customers who are taking us into servers with a [host processor] offload strategy,” said Flanagan. “Where you need heavy number crunching we’re very power efficient, delivering as much as ten times the MIPS per power” as x86 CPUs, he said.
Specifically, customers are showing interest in Keystone as a coprocessor for video transcoding and image storing in servers. TI also hopes to make inroads in weather and fluid modeling and big data analytics for cloud computing.
Data centers are turning away from monolithic server designs in favor of “breaking [jobs] down and putting some things on a DSP or A15,” he said.
The packet processing and network switching blocks integrated in the Keystone chips are helping them win designs in servers, he added.
TI is focused on the coprocessor slot at a time when the space for ARM-based SoCs acting as central server processors is becoming increasingly crowded.
Dell and Hewlett-Packard have developed prototype products using 32-bit Marvell and Calxeda chips respectively. Applied Micro and Nvidia are developing what could be among the first 64-bit ARM server SoCs. Samsung and Huawei also have products in the works as does one unannounced startup.
Meanwhile HP said it will use in low-power servers a dual-core Atom server chip called Centerton that Intel will ship this year. AMD is said also to be developing an x86 alternative to the ARM server SoCs.