Samsung Laying Groundwork Server Chips, Analysts
By Jason Murdoch|November 8, 2012|9:50 am

Categories: Arm, Chip, Samsung

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ARM on Tuesday introduced its first 64 bit Cortex A50 series processor designs as the company tries to preserve its dominance in smartphones and tablets while catching up with Intel in servers.

However, Intel is also tweaking its low power Atom processors to work in cloud servers and will release new Atom S series chips for microservers later this year.

The processor designs will offer a range of new features and capabilities to mobile devices and servers while balancing performance with power consumption.

Advanced Micro Devices this week announced a plan to begin developing ARM based processors targeted at the server market, in an attempt to diversify away from the core battle with Intel for the x86 Computer processor market.

The new chips will succeed the Cortex A15 processor, which is just reaching the market in devices such as Google’s Nexus 10, which was announced this week.

A Samsung spokeswoman said the company couldn’t talk about its future chip or server plans.

This would “also include the semiconductor teams, who have ambitious plans for the future”, claimed Apple in a statement.

“Samsung is a lead partner of ARM’s new Cortex A50 processors. However, we’re not in a position to comment on our plans for how we’ll use the Cortex A50 as part of our Exynos product family,” said Lisa Warren Plungy, a Samsung Semiconductor spokeswoman, in an e mail.

If Samsung decides to develop a server chip, it could be more profitable than smartphone and tablet chips, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Servers may be the first products to reach the market, and some chip partners are aggressively looking at high end smartphones and tablets.

Samsung also makes disk drives, memory and processors and it could do integrated server hardware, McCarron said.

Samsung’s memory and DRAM already go into x86 servers, but the company could get a sales boost by supplying server makers with a bundle of server chips with DRAM and other components.

Samsung has hired a lot of chip designers to work in the company’s Austin, Texas facility, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

One of the key hires was Pat Patla, who is involved in server product operations.

Patla previously was the general manager and vice president of server processors at Advanced Micro Devices.

Dell and Hewlett Packard already offer prototype ARM based servers for testing to customers looking to deploy ARM servers to cut energy bills.

There is growing interest in ARM servers as an energy efficient way to handle large numbers of Web requests such as in search or social networks.

A number of IT heavyweights including Facebook, Dell, Hewlett Packard and Red Hat are backing ARM servers.

Intel is also facing nascent competition from ARM in the server market, with a number of start ups, and its great rival AMD, planning low power consumption servers based on ARM designs rather than Intel and x86.

The improved performance is key with mobile devices handling applications such as video and servers processing an increasing number of Web transactions.

The x86 chips are power hungry but considered faster for data intensive applications such as databases and analytics.

For example, a smartphone could have high performance cores to handle demanding applications, with low power cores to handle lower level tasks like phone calls.

Intel will start shipping new low power Atom chips for servers later this year to tackle ARM’s threat.

The first Cortex A50 series chips could be available in late 2013, after which companies can start making products.

AMD has said it will offer servers that support both ARM and x86 architectures.

While the hype is heavy, the ARM server infrastructure is highly underdeveloped, analysts said.

Current ARM chips with 32 bit addressing are not ready for servers, and issues relate to application compatibility and memory ceiling of 4GB.

The new processors also boast virtualization support, error correction, security capabilities and better floating point performance, Forsyth said.

The success of ARM in servers also lies on software support, said Mercury Research’s McCarron.

Many of the popular Linux builds in the future will support the 64 bit ARM instruction set, so the software development effort is well underway, McCarron said.

At last week’s TechCon, Oracle, Cloudera and Citrix also announced plans to develop software for 64 bit ARM hardware.

Samsung’s likely competitors will include Calxeda, Nvidia and AMD, which plan to offer 64 bit processors for servers.

While Calxeda and AMD plan to incorporate proprietary networking and storage fabric to provide a highly integrated server chip, Samsung’s approach will be more like Marvell, meaning it may offer a lower cost commodity server chip by not integrating the fabric, Brookwood said.

But the analysts agreed that entering the server chip business could help Samsung.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service.

Jason Murdoch is a business journalist based in Hobart, Australia. Jason has a passion for financial markets and breaking news stories and loves writing about business news, stock market, and economic opinions that matters most to its audience. Jason spends a lot of time discovering and researching latest financial markets and industry news stories in order to make sure the latest and greatest stories are brought to you first on BigBoardNews.com.



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