Anybody following the industry over the last decade will have heard of Arm. We best know the company for being the enabler and providing the architecture as well as CPU designs that power essentially all of today’s mobile devices. The last 7-5 years in particular we’ve seen meteoric advances in silicon performance of the mobile SoCs found in our smartphones and tablets.

However Arm's ambition goes widely beyond just mobile and embedded devices. The market for compute in general is a lot larger than that, and looking at things in a business sense, high-end devices like servers and related infrastructure carry far greater profit margins. So for a successful CPU designer like Arm who is still on the rise, it's a very lucrative market to aim for, as current leader Intel can profess.

To that end, while Arm has been wildly successful in mobile and embedded, anything requiring more performance has to date been out of reach or has come with significant drawbacks. Over the last decade we’ve heard of numerous prophecies how products based on the architecture will take the server and infrastructure market by storm “any moment now”. In the last couple of years in particular  we’ve seen various vendors attempt to bring this goal to fruition: Unfortunately, the results of the first generation of products were less than successful, and as such, even though some did better than others, the Arm server ecosystem has seen a quite a bit of hardship in its first years.

A New Focus On Performance

While Arm has been successful in mobile for quite some time, the overall performance of their designs has often left something to be desired. As a result, the company has been undertaking a new focus on performance that is spanning everything from mobile to servers. Working towards this goal, 2018 was an important year for Arm as the company had introduced its brand-new Cortex A76 microarchitecture design: Representing a clean-sheet endeavor, learning from the experience gained in previous generations, the company has put high hopes in the brand-new Austin-family of microarchitectures. In fact, Arm is so confident on its upcoming designs that the company has publicly shared its client compute CPU roadmap through 2020 and proclaiming it will take Intel head on in PC laptop space.

While we’ll have to wait a bit longer for products such as the Snapdragon 8CX to come to market, we’ve already had our hands on the first mobile devices with the Cortex A76, and very much independently verified all of Arm’s performance and efficiency claims.

And then of course, there's Neoverse, the star of today's Arm announcements. With Neoverse Arm is looking to do for servers and infrastructure what it's already doing for its mobile business, by greatly ramping up their performance and improving their competitiveness with a new generation of processor designs. We'll get into Neoverse in much deeper detail in a moment, but in context, it's one piece of a much larger effort for Arm.

All of these new microarchitectures are important to Arm because they represent an inflection point in the market: Performance is now nearing that of the high-end players such as Intel and AMD, and Arm is confident in its ability to sustain significant annual improvements of 25-30% - vastly exceeding the rate at which the incumbent vendors are able to iterate.

The Server Inflection Point: An Eventful Last Few Months Indeed

The last couple of months have been quite exciting for the Arm server ecosystem. At last year’s Hotchips we’ve covered Fujitsu’s session of their brand-new A64FX HPC (High performance compute) processor, representing not only the company shift from SPARC to ARMv8, but also delivering the first chip to implement the new SVE (Scalable Vector Extensions) addition to the Arm architecture.

Cavium’s ThunderX2 saw some very impressive performance leaps, making its new processor among the first to be able to compete with Intel and AMD – with partners such as GIGABYTE offering whole server systems solutions based on the new SoC.

Most recently, we saw Huawei unveiled their new Kunspeng 920 server chip promising to be the industry’s highest performing Arm server CPU.

The big commonality between the above mentioned three products is the fact that each represents individual vendor’s efforts at implementing a custom microarchitecture based on an ARMv8 architectural license. This in fact begs the question: what are Arm’s own plans for the server and infrastructure market? Well for those following closely, today’s coverage of the new Neoverse line-up shouldn’t come as a complete surprise as the company had first announced the branding and road-map back in October.

Introducing the Neoverse N1 & E1 platforms: Enabling the Ecosystem

Today’s announcement is all about enabling the ecosystem; we’ll be covering in more detail two new “platforms” that will be at the core of Arm’s infrastructure strategy for the next few years, the Neoverse N1 and E1 platforms:

Particularly today’s announcement of the Neoverse N1 platform sheds light onto what Arm had teased back in the initial October release, detailing what exactly “Ares” is and how the server/infrastructure counter-part to the Cortex A76 µarchitecture will be bringing major performance boosts to the Arm infrastructure ecosystem.

The Neoverse N1 CPU: No-Compromise Performance
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  • eastcoast_pete - Thursday, February 21, 2019 - link

    I stand corrected on IBM still selling x86 servers (they don't), and am actually glad to hear that Power is also used in smaller shops. It's just that I haven't run into too many Power systems around here. It's a very capable arch. Reply
  • Kevin G - Thursday, February 21, 2019 - link

    The big Power users are also the big cloud providers. Google and Amazon have reportedly taken a liking to openPower hardware. Facebook has reportedly looking into openPower as well. Granted this are small scale compared to the number of x86 systems these companies have, it was a much need shot of energy into the Power platform. Reply
  • nevcairiel - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Microsoft already ported Windows Server to ARM, and their entire development stack has support for ARM and ARM64 now, so its only a matter of time for the other server products to be made available. Reply
  • HStewart - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    It really funny that Microsoft did not trust that environment enough to created Surface using ARM processor. Reply
  • GreenReaper - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Uh . . . that's reportedly because Intel came begging them *not* to for the Surface Go 2018 (and probably cut them a very nice deal on the Pentium Gold as a result): https://www.techradar.com/uk/news/microsoft-surfac...

    As mentioned, you can also compile for 64-bit ARM in VS now. This is a major win for some apps which truly require native execution (which is not all of them, but enough to be a pain):
    https://blogs.windows.com/buildingapps/2018/11/15/...

    Will it actually become a viable platform as a result of all this? I suspect it still won't be the default in five years, but in cost-conscious areas it could end up with a foothold. Even if Microsoft doesn't go down that route, it may be open for others to do so for specific purposes, such as education.
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Not funny; rather, cautious. None of the A76 designs were in silico when MS designed the current Surface. When you specc out a design like the Surface, you base it on what's available at that time, not what might be around next year. Otherwise, the chance of ending up with egg on one's face is uncomfortably high. Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    I agree with you, but, as we all know, businesses buy the hardware that can run the software they want or need, not the other way around. In this regard, I am curious if Oracle and SAP are porting their offerings to ARM64 server. If both of those are on board, this design would have a great chance to get strong traction. Reply
  • HStewart - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    One thing that I am concern in this article is that this chip is mark as Simulated in charts which to me is just a marketing term. Also it comparing again existing 2018 designs for both Intel and AMD. An actual fair comparison with Sunny Cove based cpu with more units and such.

    I also think that just increase cores is not the best way to handle performance, in todays world single core performance is still very important but this depends on the market the chip is intended for but the important part is software compatibility.
    Reply
  • Antony Newman - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    H.

    A Simulated vs Historical point was made in the article. Perhaps you need to reread?

    Also : Single Core performance is very important - especially when they are all running flat out.
    Intel has to throttle down their multi core beasts so the chips don’t catch fire at 14nm.
    At 10nm - Intel will be able to sustain a few more cores before throttling.
    And before Intel are at (Intel) 7nm, ARM will likely overtake Intel on the IPC front (assuming that ARM’s ‘prediction is as accurate as my own)

    AJ
    Reply
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Single core is still important for client computers, but much less so for servers. Reply

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