Around 15 months ago, AMD announced that it would be building 64-bit ARM based SoCs for servers in 2014. Less than a month into 2014, AMD made good on its promise and officially announced the Opteron A1100: a 64-bit ARM Cortex A57 based SoC.

The Opteron A1100 features either 4 or 8 AMD Cortex A57 cores. There's only a single die mask so we're talking about harvested die to make up the quad-core configuration. My guess is over time we'll see that go away entirely, but since we're at very early stages of talking about the A1100 there's likely some hedging of bets going on. Each core will run at a frequency somewhere north of 2GHz. The SoC is built on a 28nm process at Global Foundries.

Each pair of cores shares a 1MB L2 cache, for a total of up to 4MB of L2 cache for the chip. All cores share a unified L3 cache of up to 8MB in size. AMD designed a new memory controller for the Opteron A1100 that's capable of supporting both DDR3 or DDR4. The memory interface is 128-bits wide and supports up to 4 SODIMMs, UDIMMs or RDIMMs. AMD will be shipping a reference platform capable of supporting up to 128GB of Registered DDR3 DIMMs off of a single SoC.

Also on-die is an 8-lane PCIe 3.0 controller (1 x8 or 2 x4 slot configurations supported) and an 8-port 6Gbps SATA controller. AMD assured me that the on-chip fabric is capable of sustaining full bandwidth to all 8 SATA ports. The SoC features support for 2 x 10GbE ports and ARM's TrustZone technology. 

AMD will be making a reference board available to interested parties starting in March, with server and OEM announcements to come in Q4 of this year. 

It's still too early to talk about performance or TDPs, but AMD did indicate better overall performance than its Opteron X2150 (4-core 1.9GHz Jaguar) at a comparable TDP:

AMD Opteron A1100 vs. X2150
  CPU Core Configuration CPU Frequency SPECint_rate Estimate SPECint per Core Estimated TDP
AMD Opteron A1100 8 x ARM Cortex A57 >= 2GHz 80 10 25W
AMD Opteron X2150 4 x AMD Jaguar 1.9GHz 28.1 7 22W

AMD alluded to substantial cost savings over competing Intel solutions with support for similar memory capacities. AMD tells me we should expect a total "solution" price somewhere around 1/10th that of a competing high-end Xeon box, but it isn't offering specifics beyond that just yet. Given the Opteron X2150 performance/TDP comparison, I'm guessing we're looking at a similar ~$100 price point for the SoC. There's also no word on whether or not the SoC will leverage any of AMD's graphics IP.

The Opteron A1100 is aimed squarely at those applications that either need a lot of low power compute or tons of memory/storage. AMD sees huge demand in the memcached space, cold storage servers and Apache web front ends. The offer is pretty simple: take cost savings on the CPU front and pour it into more DRAM.

Early attempts at ARM based server designs were problematic given the lack of a 64-bit ARM ISA. With ARMv8 and the Cortex A53/A57 CPUs, that's all changed. I don't suspect solutions like the Opteron A1100 to be a knockout success immediately, but this is definitely the beginning of something very new. Of all of the players in the ARM enterprise space, AMD looks like one of the most credible threats. It's also a great way for AMD to rebuild its enterprise marketshare with a targeted strike in new/growing segments. 

AMD's Andrew Feldman included one of his trademark reality check slides in his Opteron A1100 presentation today:

Lower cost, high volume CPUs have always won. That's how Intel took the server market to begin with. The implication here is that ARM will do the same to Intel. Predicting 25% of the server market by 2019 may be feasible, but I'm not fond of making predictions for what the world will look like 5 years from now. 

The real question is what architecture(s) AMD plans to use to get to a leadership position among ARM CPUs and a substantial share of the x86 CPU market. We get the first hint with the third bullet above: "smaller more efficient x86 CPUs will be dominant in the x86 segment".



View All Comments

  • RoggerRabbit - Thursday, January 30, 2014 - link

    You obviously don't run many servers :) The opex on power alone is double what the capex is for most servers, especially in the 2 CPU arena. Reply
  • dealcorn - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    The comparison to high-end Xeon sounds fanciful. Low-end Xeon (Avoton/Rangerly) is already at 20/21 watts which is substantially lower that Seattle's 25 watts. The target market is sensitive to efficiency. Unless AMD can identify specific niches where Seattle efficiency reigns, this sound like a pipe dream. Reply
  • npz - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    Avoton vs Seattle:
    - 64GB DDR3 unbuffered vs 128GB DDR3 or DDR4, unbuffered or registered
    - x16 PCIE 2.0 vs x8 PCIE 3.0 (same total bandwidth, but Seattle will have twice the bandwidth from an add-on PCIE 3.0 x8 card)
    - AES-NI vs dedicated hardware accelerators for encryption and compression
    - 4x GigE vs 2x 10GigE
    - 6 SATA vs 8 SATA
  • nofumble62 - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    Not surprise to look at these spec numbers because they have to add at least one year for OEM to qualify their platform before they can ship product, this is typical for server. Reply
  • KenLuskin - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    SeaMIcro is an OEM! AMD does NOT have to rely upon outside OEMs!

    AMD will sell SeaMicro servers with Seattle chips DIRECTLY to Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, MSFT, Verizon, etc..
  • Khato - Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - link

    Ayup, in terms of the rest of the SoC AMD wins the battle against Avoton in almost all areas. (PCI-E is at best a wash - sure Seattle will have twice the bandwidth available to a PCI-E Gen3 card, but it'll have half the total bandwidth of Avoton if using Gen2 cards.)

    But will Seattle be going up against Avoton by the time it's actually available? Or will it be competing against Denverton and whatever updates Intel brings to the table with it? Could easily be that Intel will have matched or bested AMD in all of the above with Denverton, or that it's just a 'straight' die shrink of Avoton with no new features.
  • KenLuskin - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    AMD has UN announced partnerships with large CLOUD players. The Seattle chip will be customized to the exact needs of each partner.

    Using ARM cores, AMD can quickly iterate different versions of Seattle.

    Intel takes 2 years to build a new chip!

    Even if all things are equal, CLOUD players want alternatives to Intel monopoly!!!!

    Cloud players will support AMD's ARM server chips, because they can get a customized product at a lower price!

  • FwFred - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    4x 2.5G. You also fail to mention:
    - 20W TDP vs 25W TDP
    - 106 vs. 80 spec_int_rate_2006
    - Launch Q3'2013 vs Q4'2014/Q1'2015?
    - x86 SW compatibility (seems AMD is losing one of their big advantages with ARM)

    As Khato says, I'm not sure the competition will be Avoton
  • iwod - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    Exactly my thoughts. These AMD SoC aren't cheap either. They are priced similar to Intel Atom, while offering little benefits in its targeting area. And Intel are already lining up Broadwell Xeon SoC as well as Denverton Server SoC.

    Yes Pref / Watts matters A LOT. But at which Watts usage region? At mW ARM wins, At 10 - 20W? Intel still wins, and by quite a large margin.
  • gruffi - Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - link

    That's nonsense. Intel chips are expensive, very expensive. Their 22nm FinFET fabrication is very expensive. Not even close to a mainstream 28nm bulk ARM design. Except peak performance, and even that might not be the case, AMD seem to have a clear winner. Especially their feature set is vastly superior in server space. Intel cannot hide that Avoton is based on a client design, just like the Jaguar Opterons. Which is only useful in niche markets. Reply

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