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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  • wumpus - Thursday, February 21, 2019 - link

    This was supposed to be a reply to "X86 is less efficient than RISC".
  • Neutral - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    "All of these new microarchitectures are important to Arm because they represent an infliction point in the market"...
    Dictionary result for infliction
    the action of inflicting something unpleasant or painful on someone or something.
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Whoops, there's one heck of a typo. Thanks!
  • phoenix_rizzen - Thursday, February 21, 2019 - link

    There's several other typos, incorrect word usage, and "correctly spelled but incorrect word" errors in this article.

    Excellent article with a *lot* of great information. But a lot of niggles that should have been picked up by an editor before it was published.
  • GreenReaper - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    They're bringing *pain* to the competition! :-D
  • Antony Newman - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Ryan : I think I counted several (6?) typos - a spellcheck will pick up most of them (there was also a DDR related one with a missing letter).

  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    @Andrei: Thanks! Sounds very promising, I look forward to ARM-based solutions giving Intel (and AMD) some competitive pressure in the server space, now that SPARC and Power are either down or almost out of this market. Question: Any mention of Microsoft server-type applications being ported to run native on ARM64/Neoverse? That would open a large market for Neoverse and following designs.

    Other comments: So, did Qualcomm get out of the server market exactly at the wrong time? Sure looks that way. Huawei played it smart, using its development and know-how from the mobile space to make itself a serious contender for ARM-based servers (China's push to have non-US solutions for their home markets doesn't hurt them, either).
    The big technical questions for me are: What will the performance and energy use of the CMN-600 mesh network and CCIX be? AMD is trying its chiplet approach, but their first generation had high energy consumption and some performance degradation by the interconnect, which still has them at a disadvantage to Intel's all cores on one die approach. However, scaling up becomes prohibitive as the die gets bigger and transistor counts get higher. I see the interconnect tech as the next big thing for servers and HPC. If they (ARM) and partners can pull this off and be the first with a high-performance, energy-efficient interconnect, they can clobber Intel or AMD just by combining more and more cheap, high-performing cores using chiplets, and do so at a much lower per-core and per-performance cost.
  • SarahKerrigan - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Power is not even remotely out of the server market. IBM sells billions of dollars of servers per year, and the top two systems on Top500 are Power.
  • eastcoast_pete - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    Didn't say that Power is completely out of the server market; SPARC is, thanks to Larry. However, while Power is big in HPC and Supercomputing, it's become rare these days to find a Power-based unit in a server closet or rack for more general use, especially outside of large enterprises. IBM also sells quite a number of Intel-based servers, and I believe that accounts for a sizeable chunk of their remaining server business.
  • SarahKerrigan - Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - link

    That's not accurate. IBM offloaded their x86 server business (to Lenovo) in 2014. At this point, it is just z mainframes and Power.

    My company owns a pair of Power systems, one single-socket and one two-socket, and we're pretty small. It's not just large enterprises. OpenPower has brought down entry costs significantly.

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