back to article Smartmobe brain maker Qualcomm teases 64-bit ARM server chip secrets

Qualcomm, the maker of processors for Nexus smartphones and other mobes and tablets, has revealed early specifications for its upcoming server chips. The California company is best known for designing the brains in handheld devices, networking kit, and other embedded gear. Now, in the past few minutes, it's unveiled a pre- …

  1. Lennart Sorensen

    But will you ever be able to buy one? Gigabyte has shown of both x-gene1 and thunderx machines, at least one of which has prices and preorder options at various dealers (and has had for 3 months) but can you actually buy one? No, of course not. If we could, we would buy one today (or maybe two).

    1. Phil Endecott

      I'm hopeful of an actually-shipping and sensibly-priced AMD board in the next 6 months or so. Maybe mini-itx or similar, maybe via 69boards. This Qualcomm product is clearly further off.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, I don't know what you would do with yours but if you write parallel code/algorithms it's great to have a machine with many cores to see how the algorithms scale.

      I was shopping for a machine with many cores a while ago. I assumed I would buy one of these ARM chips/servers but they all seem to be vaporware.

      Fortunately I found that eBay has an active market for old server hardware. There are many blade servers with dual Opterons or dual Xeons with 16+ cores total that are a few years out of date and only cost a few hundred dollars. Very cost effective and amusing to own!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There's even organized lists of the available machines and replacement parts. It's only this particular function that keeps me nuzzling eBay at all. Porno for IT engineers (and BOFH's I suppose as well ;-).

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Qualcomm traditionally has extremely good connections to the military so it's more than possible that they will kickstart the business with a huge data centre order that we'll never hear of but that will help them get the volume to get other business.

  2. The Axe

    Mountain

    "Qualcomm and its pals have a hell of a mountain to climb"

    And also a huge market in which to take even a small amount of and make tons of dosh.

    Or they might upset everyone and go the way of Google who were nobody when AOL where massive. Where's AOL now?

  3. CaitlinBestler

    The vast majority of datacenter workloads will run well on ARM cores.

    The critical question with any of these designs is how well they have integrated the Ethernet interface.

    Having fast enough processing is meaningless if poor bus design adds to per-frame latency.

    1. Probie

      Run Windows servers on ARM lately?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Run windows server on intel lately ? - NO

  4. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    What held back ARM so far...

    What held back ARM so far...

    1) 32-bit chips. This really is the big one, they apparently have an equivalent of PAE (which allowed/allows >4GB of RAM on 32-bit Intel systems) but server buyers have been buying 64-bit for a while and did not want to go backwards in this regard.

    2) Single-threaded performance. If you're running some number-crunching task(s) that do not paralellize and should finish as fast as possible, the top of the line Intel cores still outrun top-of-the-line ARM cores. A lot of server loads (both with and without virtualization being used) will split up quite well between cores though. If you have a situation where it wouldn't matter much if you have (say) 2 cores versus 3 cores that are each 2/3rds the speed, then you're god to go for ARM.

    3) To a lesser extent, compatibility. If you want to run Windows on these... well WinRT and "Windows IoT" are basically a joke, you're stuck with Intel. Linux? I ran a full Debian for ARM desktop (via X over wifi) off a Droid 2 Global (1ghz *single core* ARM, 512MB of RAM) years ago (long enough to test it), and you would not have noticed it wasn't an Intel system until you looked and saw a phone where the desktop should have been. If you follow good programming practices for stuff written in C or C++, it should port right over. If you're writing in virtually anything else (Python, Java, C#, etc.) there's no porting to do, the runtimes are already ported over.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: What held back ARM so far...

      Mellanox and FPGA and at ARM prices? You can see all kinds of engineering shops falling over themselves to get hold of some of these. It's an HPC wet dream!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So we're in a race to the cellar for cost/compute and watts/compute. Effectively TCO/compute in my book. I just can't see Intel being any more worried in that market, here or in China. Perhaps even less after the Chinese competition authority (wrongly IMNSHO) fined Qualcomm. Also who has the bigger wallet. Still I want one. I have several projects that it would be ideal for even though I'd have to design my own boards for them.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "So we're in a race to the cellar for cost/compute and watts/compute."

      Until 4 years ago I would have said that _anything_ would outclass x86 on the latter, but Intel has been rolling out a continuous set of surprises.

      That said, the x86 instruction set is a bloody mess and walking to a clean sheet design would help a lot in terms of going forward. The thing which stops us buying ARM is more inertia (and availability) than actual requirements for binary compatibility (as long as I can put RHEL on them, I'm good to go)

  6. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Yup

    "So we're in a race to the cellar for cost/compute and watts/compute. Effectively TCO/compute in my book. I just can't see Intel being any more worried in that market, here or in China."

    Yup, I didn't think Intel had anything competitive, but Intel's got some low power Xeons that use much more power than contemporary ARM, but also run quite a bit faster, so the performance per watt is pretty good. Atom also, (pretty slow but low power), but apparently Intel's planning to keep it for "consumer" usage and not for servers. Whoever gets best instructions per clock will be used. I guess Google, Facebook, etc. are looking at Xeons, Power8, and ARM primarily, but whatever gets bets performance per watt and density will be what they use. They don't have a bunch of purchased non-portable software, so they have no actual reason to run Intel if there's something better.

    I can tell ya, back in the day I ran Linux on an ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, Alpha, PA-RISC, as well as x86. Debian do a good job of this, you had a complete distro on all of these, not some noticeably smaller subset of packages.. To bootstrap linux on a new CPU you basically get gcc, the kernel, and glibc to build on it (there's a few lighter libc for embedded use too), and (in Debian's case) a build system builds all other packages from source, logging which packages failed to build. Once your GCC and glibc are up to snuff, everything should build (it won't try to build something platform specific like virtualbox, it'd be flagged x86-only). ARM, and POWER/PowerPC have been supported for years, modern ARM and Power8 are already supported so I don't think a company with a home-built Linux-based software stack should have huge problems porting over if they prove more power-efficient (or to a future power-efficient chip, once it's got gcc, Linux, and glibc on it everything else should follow and you end up with a full distro on there too. Hopefully the C/C++ portions of your custom software stack build and whatever else (python or shell script or whatever) should just copy straight over.)

  7. Nuno trancoso
    Coat

    I have a dream

    That one of these days VIA gets off it's collective ass and starts bringing what it already has to the general market at a sensible price...

    While not as fast as Intel or as power saving as ARM, they do fill that nice spot where it doesn't use too much power, isn't that dog slow AND runs Win.

    AMD also has Geode in that niche, but neither company seems to be interested in truly giving it a decent chance.

    :Get the pj's and off to bed, dreaming of a low power 8 core that runs Windoze and costs <€100

  8. kryptylomese

    I can really see the benefit of using ARM and not just because Linux works 100% on it due to the fact the software is open source and can be recompiled for the platform (Unlike Windows) but also because of emulators available from http://eltechs.com/

    Have any of you used it? If it is good then it is most definitely a game changer that will allow Windows software x86 (64?) to run on ARM!

    1. Mikel

      Bah!

      >? If it is good then it is most definitely a game changer that will allow Windows software x86 (64?) to run on ARM!

      To a five year old with a hammer, everything is a nail.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Emulators just aren't fast enough. But then again, the Windows data centre market is relatively small.

  9. Mikel

    AMD and HP bought and killed the previous ARM Server makers

    They will have no such luck with Qualcomm. The future can be delayed, not prevented.

  10. nick soph

    A question - what does this do for VM's running containers?

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