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China start-up bares 64-core ARM-based server chip

Posted: 26 Aug 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:28nm  ARM-based server  ARMv8 

China-based start-up Phytium Technology Co. Ltd unveiled the most powerful ARM-based server processor at the annual Hot Chips event, where Oracle also showed its first Sparc processor with integrated Infiniband.

Founded in 2012, little known Phytium described a processor using 64 custom ARMv8 cores that will run at up to 2GHz at 28nm. It can issue up to four instructions per cycle to hit up to 512GFlops. The massive chip consumes 120W and fits in a 640mm2 die with about 3,000 pins.

The so-called Mars design surpasses existing high-end ARM-based server chips such as the 48-core ThunderX now sampling from Cavium and a high-end part still in the works at Broadcom. In February, EZchip said it will ship a 100-core ARMv8 made in a 28nm process, but it may not ship until 2017.

The Mars design has not yet taped out but nevertheless impressed analysts and observers at the annual gathering of microprocessor designers, in part because few had heard of the company.


Like IBM's Power 8, Mars uses external L3 cache and memory controllers.

Sam Naffziger, a fellow at AMD who moderated the session, called Mars a respectable design with a "good cache hierarchy and good bandwidth match."

Hot Chips organisers were surprised to get a paper proposal from Phytium, a company they had not heard from previously. It had accepted several papers in the past from a China government- and university-backed team building the so-called Godson processor.

"I was surprised we didn't hear from [the Godson team] again this year," said Ralph Wittig, a Hot Chips organiser. "When we got the Phytium paper we heard from ARM they were confident the start-up was doing real stuff... Their external memory modules are like IBM's work on Power 8... We were highly impressed as a programme committee," Wittig said.

Adding to the mystery, a Phytium engineering manager was not able to get a U.S. visa in time for the event. He presented his slides by phone from China where the company has offices in Tainjin and Guangzhou.

One attendee familiar with Phytium said the team was not from the Godson project. The company's Tianjin offices did suffer broken glass and shrapnel from the recent explosions there, he said.

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