CUPERTINO, Calif. – A China-based startup described at the annual Hot Chips event here the most aggressive ARM-based server processor to date. In the same session, Oracle described its first Sparc processor with integrated Infiniband.
Little known Phytium Technology Co. Ltd., founded in 2012, described a processor using 64 custom ARMv8 cores that will run at up to 2 GHz at 28nm. It can issue up to four instructions per cycle to hit up to 512 GFlops. The massive chip consumes 120W and fits in a 640mm2 die with about 3,000 pins.
The so-called Mars design surpasses existing high-end ARM-based server chips such as the 48-core ThunderX now sampling from Cavium and a high-end part still in the works at Broadcom. In February EZchip said it will ship a 100-core ARMv8 made in a 28nm process, but it may not ship until 2017.
The Mars design has not yet taped out, but nevertheless impressed analysts and observers at the annual gathering of microprocessor designers here, in part because few had heard of the company.
Like IBM's Power 8, Mars uses external L3 cache and memory controllers.
“My God, who knew…this is by far the most aggressive 64-bit ARM chip to be announced – it’s just awesome, and it was definitely the surprise of this event,” said Nathan Brookwood, principal of Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
Sam Naffziger, a fellow at AMD who moderated the session, called Mars a respectable design with a “good cache hierarchy and good bandwidth match.”
Hot Chips organizers were surprised to get a paper proposal from Phytium, a company they had not heard from previously. It had accepted several papers in the past from a China government- and university-backed team building the so-called Godson processor.
“I was surprised we didn’t hear from [the Godson team] again this year,” said Ralph Wittig, a Hot Chips organizer. “When we got the Phytium paper we heard from ARM they were confident the startup was doing real stuff…their external memory modules are like IBM;s work on Power 8…we were highly impressed as a program committee,” Wittig said.
Adding to the mystery, a Phytium engineering manager was not able to get a U.S. visa in time for the event. He presented his slides by phone from China where the company has offices in Tainjin and Guangzhou.
One attendee familiar with Phytium said the team was not from the Godson project. The company’s Tianjin offices did suffer broken glass and shrapnel from the recent explosions there, he said.
Next page: Inside the custom ARMv8 core