SeaMicro's new server has latest Intel Atom N570 chip

The SM10000-64 server packs 850GHz of processing power

SeaMicro on Monday announced a low-power server that includes 256 of Intel's latest Atom N570 dual-core processors.

The SM10000-64 has 512 Atom processing cores running at 1.66GHz, which combine to deliver 850GHz of processing power, the company said. Each core is capable of running two threads simultaneously, which helps boost application performance.

Intel's low-power Atom processors are typically used in netbooks. But these chips are considered more power-efficient than traditional server chips for certain tasks such as Web transactions, which contain small amounts of data and can be quickly processed.

The server is targeted at data centers that handle a large volume of Internet transactions, such as e-mail, search and social networking, said Andrew Feldman, CEO of SeaMicro. The server is also targeted at managed hosting providers and cloud-based service providers.

Depending on the application, a collection of Atom cores could provide better performance-per-watt than Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron server chips, which consume more power and are geared toward intense engineering, math or database applications, Feldman said.

For example, Internet search engines don't hold all data on one giant machine, Feldman said. The index data is broken up over groups of smaller servers that band together to quickly execute transactions. Servers with low-power chips use fewer resources at executing such tasks, Feldman said.

"It's moving from big hardware and software to lots of little hardware and software," Feldman said. "We're building systems that are designed to optimize compute-per-watt."

The interest in building servers with low-power chips is growing as companies look to cut energy bills. Dell offers servers with low-power x86 chips on a selective basis and Microsoft has asked Intel to develop a 16-core Atom chip for servers. AMD is evaluating its Fusion netbook chips for servers. Low-power ARM processors, usually used in smartphones and tablets, could also soon reach servers. Marvell has already announced a server chip based on the ARM architecture and Nvidia earlier this year announced Project Denver, the code name for an ARM-based CPU being designed for PCs, servers and supercomputers.

SeaMicro is one of the few companies that deals exclusively in making servers based on netbook chips. The company came out of stealth mode in June last year when it launched the SM10000 server, which included 512 Atom Z530 single-core processors. Many companies, such as cloud service providers and telecommunication companies showed an interest in the product and used it for multiple tasks, Feldman said.

The SM10000-64 server is faster and more power efficient than the company's first offering. The move to a faster dual-core N570 has reduced the number of chips in the server, which has reduced power consumption. The server consumes 15 per cent to 17 per cent less power. The server also supports 64-bit operating systems, and extends the addressable memory ceiling to 4GB. The older SM10000 server supported only 32-bit software and had a 2GB RAM ceiling.

SeaMicro reached out to Intel on features it sought in a low-power server chip as it looked to best its initial offering, Feldman said.

"The N570 is the highest performance, low-power processor bar none," Feldman said.

SeaMicro is also testing processors from ARM, Feldman said. ARM doesn't have a vibrant software ecosystem, which puts it at a disadvantage, as most data centers today have servers with x86 chips. But ARM is working to build the software ecosystem and SeaMicro is keeping its options open.

The SM10000-64 holds the Atom chips on miniature boards the size of credit cards and are interconnected by a fabric with a throughput of 1.28 terabits per second. The motherboard also holds an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit), which virtualizes functions such as I/O, and that reduces the need for specific networking and storage components.

The server can hold up to 1TB of DDR3 RAM, and up to 64 hard drives or solid-state drives (SSDs). The server size is 10 rack units tall, or 17.5 inches.

The server's price starts at $US148,000, and it is available in the U.S. and internationally, the company said.

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