UPDATED 09:00 EDT / MARCH 03 2020

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Ampere says its new 80-core server processor is twice as fast as Intel silicon

Ampere Computing Inc., the chip startup led by former Intel Corp. President Renee James, today unveiled a 80-core server processor that it describes as more than twice as fast as the competition.

The Ampere Altra is designed for use in cloud data centers and systems that run at the edge of the network. It features a seven-nanometer architecture based on a 64-bit Arm Ltd. design that allows Ampere to place up to 80 processing cores on a single chip, which it says is the most of any central processing unit on the market today.

Jeff Wittich, the startup’s senior vice president of products, told SiliconANGLE that the Altra is 223% faster than Intel’s comparable Xeon Platinum 8280.

Ampere also claims an advantage in energy efficiency. The startup says the 80-core Altra has a thermal design power of up to 210 watts compared with the 28-core Xeon Platinum 8280’s thermal design power of 205 watts, which works out to less electricity per core.

Energy efficiency is a major priority for the cloud data center operators Ampere is targeting. Cloudflare Inc., for instance, last week said that it’s switching from Intel CPUs to Advanced Micro Devices Inc.’s Epyc 7642 processor because the latter uses less electricity on a pound-for-pound basis. If the Altra chip lives up to Ampere’s power savings claims, it could improve the startup’s prospects of winning deals with hyperscale customers. 

The startup has taken a different approach to designing the chip’s cores than Intel and AMD. Whereas those firms’ high-end server CPUs can usually run two processor threads per core, the Altra supports just one, a design decision that Ampere claims provides better protection against hacking.  

“By running only a single thread per core, there is no sharing of the execution engine, registers, and L1/L2 cache between threads, which minimizes the attack surface for exploits such as the recent side-channel attacks in the industry,” Ampere’s Wittich explained. The infamous Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities discovered in Intel processors two years ago are the most infamous examples of side channel exploits, which enable hackers to view the data processed by a CPU.

Ampere has also equipped the Altra with some artificial intelligence optimizations. The chip features support for FP16 and INT8, two data formats commonly used by machine learning models to represent the information they process.

Ampere says the Altra can be used in both single- and dual-CPU servers. The startup is is currently sampling Altra chips to customers with production set to begin in the middle of 2020. 

The startup’s claim that the Altra can provide more than double the speed of high-end Intel CPUs with better power efficiency is bound to gain notice in the chip industry. Ampere is jumping into the ring in a time when AMD, whose latest server CPUs similarly promise better performance than comparable Intel chips, is gaining market share from the chip giant. Intel is also being challenged by smaller players such as Nuvia Inc., a Mayfield-backed startup trying to build a more efficient server CPU

Photo: Ampere

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