Microsoft presses Intel for 16-core Atom

January 28, 2011 | 12:30

Tags: #atom #many-core #soc #system-on-chip

Companies: #arm #intel #microsoft

The push for many-core, low-power servers is continuing, and while Microsoft may be adding support for the ARM architecture to Windows 8, it's looking to its old friend Intel to help it out in the datacentre.

According to a report published by PC World, Microsoft is putting pressure on Intel to develop Atom processors with higher core counts. Rather than the single-core and dual-core Atoms available today, the software giant is looking for 16-core versions that will be better-suited to servers.

As well as increasing the core count, Microsoft engineer Dileep Bhandarka is encouraging Intel to develop the new many-core Atom as a system-on-chip (SoC) design, rather than a bare CPU. In other words, Microsoft wants Intel to take a leaf from the book of ARM processor manufacturers.

'If ARM can show us enough value over an x86 solution we might consider that,' Bhandarka told the audience at the Linley Group Data Center Conference, 'but there has to be a clear performance benefit'

Intel already has an Atom-based SoC design in the form of its Tunnel Creek E600 series of chips, but these are only single-core chips. Meanwhile, manufacturers of ARM chips such as Marvell are already sampling quad-core ARM-based server SoCs.

Although Intel's low-power Atom processor, originally developed for netbooks, has already found its way into server rooms via products such as the 512-core server from SeaMicro, the low core count on each chip means that multiple processor packages need to be used - increasing the heat output and power usage.

A many-core design would enable companies to develop servers with a minimum of physical chips, capable of churning through large quantities of relatively simple operations very quickly.

Microsoft's partnership with ARM on Windows 8, and its desire to use many-core, system-on-chip designs in its datacentres, appears to be sending a clear message to Intel: innovate or die.

Do Microsoft's plans for Atom-based, many-core servers sound sensible, or should the company just switch to the ARM architecture for these products and leave x86 to the power-hungry work? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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