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Calxeda co-founder unleashs 48-core ARM SoC

We'll get you this time, Intel, says Cavium

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Computex ARM vendor Cavium has revealed 48-core silicon it reckons will pitch it into high-end data centre and server apps.

Cavium has hired Larry Wikelius, co-founder of failed ARM server silicon vendor Calxeda, and his former colleague Gopal Hegde (who played a part in creating Cisco's UCS servers). Both are insistent that now is the best possible time to bring an ARM-powered server to market.

Hegde's optimism comes from his admission that in Calxeda's early days, little enterprise software ran on ARM. That the now-defunct company pursued a 32-bit chip didn't help either.

Fast forward to today and Hegde points out that just about anything an enterprise user could want will run on 64-bit ARM hardware. With cloud providers, and those who aspire to operate at cloud scale, open to the idea of cheaper-to-acquire-and-operate alternative to Intel's high-end chippery, now is a better time to swoop.

And swoop they have: the Thunder X SoC is a 28 nm device with up to 48 custom 64 bit ARMv8 cores at 2.5 GHz, running the whole show at between 20 and 95 W.

Other data points for the ThunderX range include “hundreds of gigabits/second” I/O, cache coherency across dual sockets, four DDR 3/4 72 bit memory controllers that will cope with up to 1 TB in a dual socket configuration, integrated hardware accelerators for applications like storage, networking, virtualisation and security.

ThunderX isn't yet in fab – it'll be sampling in Q4 2014 – which means Cavium is light on performance specs, but it says its SoCs should compete with, or beat, the power dissipation of Intel-based systems.

So far Cavium has said there will be five variants of the ThunderX range: the ThunderX_CP for content serving applications; the ThunderX_ST for Hadoop and other storage workloads; the Thunder_SC for Web front-end, security and cloud workloads; and the Thunder_NT for embedded applications and NFV workloads.

For low-end applications there's the ThunderX CN87xx 8-16 core range, with two DDR3/4 controllers, multiple 10GbE, SATAv3 and PCIe Gen3 interfaces. The company says this family will target “cold storage, distributed content delivery, dedicated hosting, distributed memory caching” as well as control plan applications.

The devices support a variety of Linux distros, with KVM and Xen virtualisation support, Java and GCC development support.

Single and dual socket motherboards have been developed, in a variety of form factors. The dual-socket board can handle 96 cores, density Hegde said should attract cloud-scale operators as it will allow them to support more users per server.

Hegde admits Thunder is, at present, an oddity. But his experience developing Cisco UCS makes him optimistic.

"Innovation sells," he told El Reg at Computex today. ®

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