AMD shows off new “Seattle” server processor

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) highlighted its new ARM-based server chip, codenamed Seattle, this week as it laid out the company’s “ambidextrous computing” roadmap and its forthcoming Project Skybridge design environment.

It was the first public demonstration of Seattle, a 64-bit ARM-based Opteron A-Series processor. The CPU started shipping to customers in January and runs a Linux environment derived from the Fedora Project Linux distribution.

“This Fedora Project-based Linux environment enables companies to transition to ARM-based servers without the need to integrate entirely new tools and software platforms to their IT environments,” AMD said. “This demonstration represents a significant step forward in expanding the footprint of ultra-efficient 64-bit ARM processors within the data centre.”

“AMD has been talking about ‘ambidextrous computing’ for a couple of years now,” Nathan Brookwood, research fellow at Insight 64, told IT World Canada. “This announcement puts some meat on the bone, and it’s right on the schedule that they announced for ‘Seattle’ 18 months ago, which helps their credibility.”

Brookwood notes that Seattle is designed for mass production deployments in the massive data centres that operate over the cloud. “This isn’t high-performance stuff where you want maximum possible single-thread performance,” he said. “This is for organizations that want to do edge-of-network tasks where there’s not a lot of performance per thread but you have a massive number of threads.”

The ARM architecture enables many more cores and threads to operate in those huge data centre environments, he said.

The San Francisco announcement highlighted AMD’s new “Project Skybridge” design framework, which is due in 2015 and will consist of a new family of 20 nanometer APUs and systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that AMD expects will be the world’s first pin-compatible ARM and x86 processors.

According to a story on, chips developed as part of Project Skybridge could be deployed in servers such as Hewlett-Packard’s “Project Moonshot,” a dense server that combines x86 and ARM processors in a single chassis.

The story notes, however, that AMD officials haven’t said whether Project Skybridge would be applied to server hardware.

“AMD now takes a bold step forward and has become the only company that can provide high-performance 64-bit ARM and x86 CPU cores paired with world-class graphics,” said Rory Read, president and CEO of AMD at the announcement in San Francisco this week.

“Our innovative ambidextrous design capability, combined with our portfolio of IP and expertise with high-performance SoCs, means that AMD is set to deliver ambidextrous solutions that enable our customers to change the world in more efficient and powerful ways.”

AMD (Nasdaq: AMD) estimates the market for ARM- and x86-based processors at around US$80 billion and growing. While the x86 share has been declining slowly, the company still predicts it will account for some 40 per cent of the total addressable market by 2018. ARM will account for about the same share by that time, as Power, MIPS and various proprietary architectures are slowly squeezed.

“This is where all the silicon is going to be built,” said Dr. Lisa Su, AMD’s senior vice president and general manager of business units. “These are the dominant architectures. And AMD is the only company that can bridge the ARM and x86 ecosystems.”

Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks
Andrew Brooks is managing editor of IT World Canada. He has been a technology journalist and editor for 20 years, including stints at Technology in Government, Computing Canada and other publications.

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