Cavium packs 48 cores into ThunderX ARM chips

The 64-bit ARM SOCs are expected in production systems next year

Diagram of Cavium's ThunderX

Diagram of Cavium's ThunderX

Cavium will begin sampling a family of 64-bit ARM server processors later this year that pack up to 48 cores on a chip and are optimized for particular workloads.

The chip maker will start sampling four variants of its ThunderX ARM SOCs (systems on chip) in the fourth quarter, optimized for compute, storage, network and security applications, it said Tuesday.

Cavium is jumping into a nascent market for ARM server chips also targeted by Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Microsystems, Marvell and others. They're all trying to displace Intel's dominant x86 processors.

Cavium hopes to set its chips apart with their high core count, and by offering a wide variety of configurations for different workloads and price points.

It was due to release details of the chips at the Computex trade show in Taipei on Tuesday. AppliedMicro updated its own roadmap at an event in Taipei a few days ago.

The ThunderX SOCs use a custom ARMv8 core developed by Cavium running at up to 2.5Ghz, the company said. The SOCs have built-in support for high-speed memory, virtualization and high bandwidth I/O, and include hardware accelerators for different tasks.

Like other ARM server parts, the chips are designed to offer a good balance of performance and low power for cloud, big data and other emerging workloads.

Cavium has been working with Linux provider Canonical, which is preparing its Ubuntu 14.04 LTS release to run on the chips. Cavium also announced Tuesday that Taiwan's Gigabyte Technologies will be among the server manufacturers using the SOCs. Hewlett-Packard has also said it will use Cavium chips in its Moonshot servers.

The ThunderX chips will sample to server manufacturers early in the fourth quarter, which means production systems will be available in 2015, said Gopal Hegde general manager of Cavium's data center processor group, by telephone from Taipei.

The ThunderX_CP is for Web servers, content delivery systems, Web caching and social media analytics workloads. It has up to 48 cores and 4 DDR4 or DDR3 memory controllers, giving up to 128GB/s memory bandwidth.

The ThunderX_ST is aimed at Hadoop and various types of storage workloads. It has multiple SATAv3 controllers and 10/40 GbE and PCIe Gen3 ports. It also has hardware accelerators for, among other things, data protection, data security and compressed storage.

The other variants are the ThunderX_SC, for secure front-end web servers and security appliances, and the ThunderX_NT, for media servers, scale-out embedded applications and virtualized network functions.

As well as offering the ThunderX SOCs with up to 48 cores, Cavium is building eight- and 16-core implementations with fewer memory controllers, for system builders that want to build lower-cost, single-socket microservers.

The ThunderX chips will be manufactured on a 28-nanometer process by GlobalFoundries, the company spun out from AMD several years ago.

James Niccolai covers data centers and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow James on Twitter at @jniccolai. James's e-mail address is james_niccolai@idg.com

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