Marvell nudges Arm into server market

Marvell on Monday announced a quad-core chip designed for use in servers that could help Arm break into a server market currently dominated by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The Armada XP chip is the "fastest" Arm processor available in the market today, Marvell said in a statement. The processor runs at 1.6GHz and includes memory, networking and storage interfaces around which a server can be built.

Arm licenses processor designs to manufacturers like Marvell, Texas Instruments, Samsung and Qualcomm. Arm-designed processors go into most of the world's smartphones, and are making their way into tablets.

Arm has talked about putting its processors in servers since 2008, and Marvell's Armada XP could give it a foothold in the market. Marvell will compete with companies like Smooth-Stone, which has already announced plans to release server chips based on Arm processors.

A Marvell spokeswoman said the company is currently offering Armada XP chips for testing to some "top tier" customers, but did not name any server makers. The chip could be customized for use in networking and media servers.

Marvell said the chip is based on the ARM v7 architecture, but the spokeswoman could not immediately provide further details. Arm recently introduced a new processor called Cortex-A15, which is targeted for use in products ranging from smartphones to servers. The Cortex-A15 processor is based on the new Arm V7-A architecture.

There is a growing interest in building servers with low-power chips to quickly execute fast-moving transactions related to cloud computing. Arm has said its low-power server processor designs would provide better performance-per-watt than chips based on the x86 architecture from Intel or AMD.

A lot of experimentation is already going on with low-power server chips, where the pickings are slim. Intel's Atom chips for netbooks are being used in some specialized servers such as SeaMicro's SM1000 server, which packs 512 Intel Atom processors on miniature motherboards the size of credit cards. AMD has also said it may consider putting its upcoming low-power chips in servers.

Marvell has also been trying to push Arm-based chips into areas such as tablets, smartphones and low-cost laptops. The company in September announced the Armada 628 triple-core chip for tablets and smartphones, which has two cores running at 1.5GHz and a third core running at 624Mhz.

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