back to article Dell skunkworks brews ARM server future

The ARM RISC processor owns the smartphone and handheld market that is starting to rival the traditional desktop and laptop PC in terms of functionality, and there is a very good chance that the chip will soon start making its way into the server racket. Not from the bottom up, like the x86/x64 chips did, but from an oblique …


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  1. David Hicks

    As someone who's been using these for years

    It's about time the world started to notice.

    Marvell's kirkwood architecture at 1.2GHz is already powerful and fast enough to make decent client machines, browse the web a bit, serve up media to the telly and play some a bit of music. And all for a few miserly watts.

    By the time these clock double and stack multiple cores on a single chip, there's next to no reason they shouldn't be used in a datacenter.

    Supercomputers, perhaps not yet, but FLOPs-per-inch have got to be approaching x86, and FLOPs-per-watt must be ahead already.

  2. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Jolly good - but where is my netbook?

    Great news, more competition in the server market is a good thing. It would be ironic if ARM takes the same proportion of servers that Itanium was supposed to...

    But for me, where is an ARM-based notebook? I want something with the iPad's battery life but the freedom (and cost benefit) of letting me put Linux, etc, on it.

    1. Phil Endecott

      Here is your ARM notebook:

      Paul Crawford wrote:

      > where is an ARM-based notebook?

      Here: the Toshiba AC100:

      It ships with Android, which is a poor fit on this hardware, but it's not difficult to replace it with Ubuntu (there are some issues at present, e.g. lack of suspend/resume, but those will no doubt be fixed in due course). The hardware has a dual-core 1 GHz ARM chip from NVidia. For me the best bit is that there is no fan. My only real concern is that the flash bandwidth might be low.

      There is also this machine, which has an 800 MHz Freescale Cortex-A8 chip:

      There are also things from Pegatron, which may or may not be the same as that Genesi one.

      Basically, if you want an ARM notebook, you can have one.

      1. Tim Walker

        About time too...

        "Basically, if you want an ARM notebook, you can have one."

        If you're prepared to search high and wide, it seems ;-)

        Thanks for the head-up - believe it or not, I like my Eee 701SD, but with 2.5-hour battery life and a red-hot CPU when it gets working, I do wish it packed an ARM chip instead of an underclocked Celeron...

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        @Here is your ARM notebook

        Thanks - when I looked at Toshiba I tried 'netbooks' and there was nothing like this, seems they don't classify it as such.

        Still, it looks very promising. Wonder if El Reg will review it at some point?

        1. Robert E A Harvey

          Christmas sorted

          Now I know what the Feminus Domesticus will be spending her pension on...

  3. Steve Loughran

    Error correction in clusters

    I don't know what the author was saying when they mentioned "error correction in clusters" but all cluster-scale apps I've been involved in assume that main memory is reliable. We checksum files and verify their hashes in idle times, ideally all packets sent over the network get checksummed, but verifying memory consistency isn't something that takes place. Why not? Well, how are you going to do it?

    In a modern datacentre the servers are shipping with 32-64 GB of RAM, say 8GB/core. Over a 1000 machines that's 32-64TB of RAM, the scale at which single bit errors start to happen regularly unless you have ECC. Which is why we have it in all our chipsets, and why nobody sensible would go into production on a chipset without it.

    The only place for non-ECC servers would be near-stateless web front ends which talk to ECC-backed servers for most information, and which are used for non-critical apps (i.e. games) rather than things like banking apps.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Paul Prince

    He doesn't moonlight as a Hip Hop producer in his spare time does he?

  5. Matt Bucknall


    'one based on the Texas Instruments OMAP35X and the other based on an ARM Cortex A8.'

    Both boards use SoCs containing ARM Cortex-A8 cores. One uses an OMAP3530 and the other uses a DM3730, both from TI.

  6. Simon Rockman

    Other metrics

    One of the major problems faced by data centers is power requirements and cooling. ARMs are low power and run cooler. It's not just about the GHz.


      Performance still matters in the data center

      > One of the major problems faced by data centers is

      > power requirements and cooling. ARMs are low

      > power and run cooler. It's not just about the GHz.

      No. It's about "getting stuff done". ARM kit is lousy for doing that. It's great for things like heat dissipation and power management. That's what makes a great mobile platform when married to speciality silicon that helps alleviate it's deficiencies.

  7. xj25vm


    "These are very small and very inexpensive machines ($149 for the former and $179 for the latter.) "

    What;s so cheap about $149 or $179?

    Intel makes and sells the D510MO mini-itx motherboard. With Atom D510 (1.66MHz) with Hyper-threading. And it is fanless. With LAN, video and sound onboard. For £60. OK - that's not a SOC. But add a bit of RAM and some storage - and you've got the equivalent functionality. And I bet you are still below the $179. I also bet that the Atom D510 is faster then both processors mentioned in this article.

    I am intrigued and excited by the opportunity to see ARM outside it's traditional mobile devices and low power devices stomping ground. But in this particular case - I don't really see the big upside.

    Also, for as long as these ARM incarnations will not use a totally standardised architecture - so that we can have one single distribution of Android/Linux/whatever else that one can just burn to a bootable usb stick or memory card - and then install it on *any* of them - I don't see them making many inroads into the day-to-day geek's life. It's all good an fine if you are a large company like Dell - with engineers on hand. But as an "average" geek - I want to be able to easily upgrade the OS on my ARM thingie without having to wait years for somebody to find a special way to bypass whatever lock the manufacturer has put in place or whatever exotic quirks the architecture has.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    "where is an ARM-based notebook"

    The companies who would manufacture and sell such a product have their arms tied behind their backs.

    If they start to sell significant quantities of non-Windows product they start paying more for the Windows licences they do sell.

    If they start to sell significant quantities of non-Intel product they start paying more for the Intel chips they do sell.

    "Paying more" may mean they lose discounts, rebates, co-marketing funding, etc.

    So it's not an easy decision for these folks, even though it's an easy decision for the clued-up end user.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    "If they get a memory error, you reboot them"

    So how do you know when to reboot them, if they can't detect memory errors?

    Oh, and tell me more about this "server version" of Windows Embedded CE. Sounds interesting.

    I think the fact that ARM is still very much a 32-bit architecture is going to be a problem in the server market. A 4GB address space seems pretty quaint nowadays for any serious server applications.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    "how do you know when to reboot them, if they can't detect memory errors?"

    When folks start phoning Payroll to say they've got the wrong amount of money in their pay packet? By which time it is just a little bit too late.

    It was a rather silly thing to say wasn't it.

    There aren't that many times errors don't matter. Steve Loughran gets it about right - presentation layer people and presentation layer apps (eg search engine results) may not care about undetected errors, but pretty much everything else does (or should). Not that anyone ever worried about ECC on the typical modern desktop, which potentially has GB of RAM, so maybe it's not such a big issue? Maybe.

  11. The BigYin

    Only one consideration

    Do the major MS OSs run on ARM? No. Dell will not be permitted to sell ARM based units.

    Once Windows can run on ARM, MS will decide how much tax to levy on each unit and then allow Dell to ship ARM units under one proviso; Dell must NOT ship any other OS. Or, if Dell does ship alternate OSs, this must be part of a greater PR FUD campaign. Again.

  12. Mark Wilcox

    You need to look a little further ahead than next year

    ARM are scaling up performance much faster than Intel are reducing power consumption. Electricity bills are THE major expense for a data center...

    BTW, I believe AMD already has an ARM license via its purchase of a certain major graphics vendor.

    The Cortex-A15 recently announced has support for sufficient memory for servers, hardware hypervisor support and significantly increased performance over the Cortex-A9.

    As we've read here on El Reg, Intel has been competing via dodgy business practices involving large "rebates" (or bribes as I prefer to call them) for the last decade rather than innovating. 5 years from now the server market could look rather different.

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