Intel's Centerton and Avoton Atom-based SoC parts mark a major turn-around in the company's design methodology - and hint at concerns regarding ARM's increasing popularity.
Intel has confirmed the production of a system-on-chip processor targeted at the microserver market, dubbed Avoton and designed to lock ARM out of Intel's datacentre customers.
Announced at the GigaOm Structure Conference in San Francisco by Intel's general manager of cloud infrastructure Jason Waxman, the Avoton chip is a 22nm part with Intel's Tri-Gate Transistor technology destined for launch in 2013 alongside Xeons based on the upcoming Haswell architecture. A follow-up to the Centerton Atom SoC destined for HP's Project Moonshot, the Atom-branded Avoton owes much to ARM's design methodology - including its low-power focus and system-on-chip architecture.
Full details regarding the clock speed and power draw of Avoton are not yet available, but Waxman did use the event to showcase a Centerton-based microserver in a live demonstration. Comprised of a Centerton-based Atom SoC, 4GB of memory, a SATA controller, an Intel gigabit Ethernet controller, plus additional hardware for voltage regulation and a Baseboard Management Controller (BMC), each node was shown to draw just 8.95W under load.
In a supporting blog post
following his presentation, Waxman reiterated his message that there is room for 'brawny cores [and] wimpy cores
' in the form of high-performance but high-TDP Xeon parts and lower-performance but low-TDP Atom parts - but, naturally, being careful to avoid mentioning the even-lower-TDP server-oriented SoC designs coming out of ARM's multifarious licensees.
There's no denying that Centerton is a major shift for Intel, which has previously offered only low-power Xeon chips with 17W TDPs for the microserver market. It's also difficult to deny that the existence of Centerton and Avoton is influenced heavily by ARM: the first Atom-based system-on-chip design was created in direct response to the popularity of ARM-based SoCs in the consumer electronics market, and Intel has since launched an Atom SoC for smartphones and tablets. Centerton, however, marks the first time Intel has created an Atom SoC specifically for the server market - and its plans for Avoton, before even finding out if anyone wants to use Atom SoCs for microservers, show that Intel is serious about keeping ARM out of the datacentre.
As with other technologies, what occurs in the datacentre today will occur on the desk tomorrow: Intel's work on Centerton and Avoton will lead to system-on-chip designs with higher-power processors for the Ultrabook and its successors, and will eventually influence desktop processor design in ways it's hard to guess at now.
Intel has confirmed plans to release Centerton parts in the second half of this year, with Avoton due to appear alongside Haswell some time in 2013. Full specifications have yet to be confirmed.