HP's ARM servers to get Texas Instruments chips

Marks Texas Instruments' entry into the ARM server market

Hewlett-Packard's effort to build ARM servers will get a boost from Texas Instruments, which will provide chips based on the latest ARM processor design.

The TI chips will be offered as part of Project Moonshot, which is HP's effort to build and deliver low-power servers with either Intel or ARM processors. The first servers are projected to ship commercially in the second quarter, and are currently available only to select customers for testing in HP's labs.

HP will use a package of TI chips -- also called a system-on-chip (SOC) -- that includes ARM's quad-core Cortex-A15 processor, the server maker said in a blog entry. The Cortex-A15 processor design is ARM's latest, and was shown in a prototype tablet and smartphone at last week's Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona.

TI's Keystone II chip package will also include cores for network processing and I/O, much like a unified server chip package offered by Calxeda, which uses an ARM processor. HP also is offering the Calxeda chip called EnergyCore as part of Project Moonshot.

"Coupling TI's new KeyStone II architecture with HP Moonshot enables large-scale, concurrent real-time processing of cloud and traditional telecommunications workloads by one integrated system optimized for high performance, power-efficient processing," wrote Tim Wesselman, senior director of ecosystem strategy at HP's HyperScale Business Unit, in the blog entry.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are buying thousands of servers to handle Internet transactions, and there is a growing interest in low-power ARM processors for such servers. Some believe ARM processors may be a more power-efficient way to handle large volumes of search and social media requests.

Companies like Dell are also experimenting with ARM-based servers, and Advanced Micro Devices has said it will offer them in the future. Servers today are mostly based on x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon or AMD's Opteron, which are considered faster than ARM processors for tasks like databases, but are more power-hungry. As an alternative to Xeon, HP is also building a server based on Intel's low-power Atom chip code-named Centerton as part of Project Moonshot.

The announcement also marks the unexpected entry of Texas Instruments in the growing ARM server market. After losing out to rivals like Qualcomm and Nvidia, TI late last year said it was moving away from the development of low-power chips for smartphones and tablets, and would concentrate on the embedded and microcontroller markets. However, TI's mobile chips are still being used in a few devices like Amazon's latest Kindle Fire tablets.

ARM processors today are largely 32-bit, and the company has announced 64-bit processors which will become available in servers starting next year. The 64-bit ARMv8 architecture is being adopted for server chip makers like AppliedMicro, Nvidia, Calxeda, Samsung and AMD.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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