Ampere eMag 64-bit ARM Server Platform Targets Intel Data Centers

Earlier this year, we covered Ampere, the start-up company formed by Renee James, former President of Intel. At the time, the company had just emerged from stealth mode and announced its plan to bring a new ARM-based server to market to compete in the cloud computing arena. Today, the company is announcing its new eMag (stylized eMAG), which it plans to scale aggressively over the next 12 months.

The CPU core at the heart of eMag used to be known as the X-Gene 3. In 2017, Macom bought Applied Micro and sold the X-Gene SoC family to the Carlyle Group, which is how Ampere came by the design. According to company representatives, one reason Ampere was able to bring the product to market so quickly is that it also acquired the Applied Micro server development team, along with some employees picked up out of Qualcomm’s data center division. Here are the specs on the eMag:

16 and 32-core SKUs
3.0GHz base clock, 3.3GHz Turbo
256KB L2 per pair of cores.
32MB global shared L3 cache
8x DDR4-2667 memory channels (170.7GB/s memory bandwidth)
16 DIMMs, up to 1TB DRAM per socket (most Intel Xeons top out at 768GB)
42 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity

It’s not clear what performance we should expect. Earlier this year, Ampere communicated that it was targeting a SPECint_rate of ~550 for the 32-core part. When we spoke to company representatives on Friday, they told us that the 32-core eMag should be capable of matching a Xeon 6130 in SPEC CINT2006 rate tests. The Xeon Gold 6130 typically scores 1450 in CINT2006’s rate tests, and while that score refers to a dual-socket configuration, even a single socket would seem to be much higher than the 500 – 550 score predicted by slides and attested as the performance target for eMag by a report from the Linley Group earlier this year.

Pricing on the CPU is quite aggressive. Ampere will sell a 32-core part for $850, while the 16-core chip is just $550. Both SoCs have a 125W TDP, though obviously, the 16-core part would use significantly less power than that given that both chips have the same clock speed. The per-core pricing is obviously intended to goose the CPU’s volume; Ampere is selling a 32-core chip for $850, while the cheapest Intel 16-core Xeon has an official list price of $1,849. Granted, Intel’s public list pricing isn’t worth much — bulk buyers often receive considerable discounts — but the only Xeon CPU even close to eMag’s price would be the Xeon Silver 4114, a 10-core chip with a 2.2GHz base clock and 3GHz turbo, at $700. AMD’s Epyc is considerably closer — the Epyc 7281 is a 16-core chip with a 2.1GHz base clock and 2.7GHz turbo at $679.

Ampere has already announced plans for an aggressive product ramp, including 7nm hardware supposedly shipping in 2019, with future support for dual-socket configurations. So far, Intel has weathered the “onslaught” of ARM server manufacturers remarkably well. Calxeda imploded, AMD shelved K10 to focus on Ryzen (absolutely the right move at the time), and Qualcomm laid off most of its data center team earlier this year. The company may not have formally sold Centriq, but it clearly curbed its data center ambitions. Right now, the only major competition to Intel from the ARM side of the server market (to the extent that an ARM server market exists at all) is coming from Cavium’s Thunder X2 SoC and now from eMag. Competition in the market is building — it’s just taken a while to get here.

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