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Power8 Muscles Up for Servers

September 3, 2013

Author: Linley Gwennap

At last week’s Hot Chips conference, IBM previewed the latest sequel in its long-running line of RISC server processors. Called Power8, the new chip delivers impressive numbers, doubling the performance of its already powerful predecessor, Power7+. Oracle currently leads in server-processor performance, but IBM’s new chip will crush those records.

The Power8 specs are mind boggling. It’s the world’s largest microprocessor, using 22nm SOI technology to pack more than three billion transistors into a 650mm2 die. Each of its 12 CPU cores can dispatch eight instructions per cycle from up to eight threads, using 14 function units to avoid resource conflicts. To feed these cores, the chip integrates more than 100MB of cache memory backed with 230GB/s bandwidth to external memory—figures that also lead the industry. Never one to tolerate failure, IBM packed the processor full of features to improve reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS).

Running at clock speeds in excess of 4.0GHz, Power8 is a fire-breather: we estimate its power dissipation at 250W (typical). But given its improved performance, the design is twice as power efficient as Power7+. Power8 is already sampling and will likely appear in new IBM Power servers in mid-2014. The design is also the core of the new OpenPower consortium, which enables IBM to sell Power8 chips or license the Power8 IP to data-center operators that design their own servers.

The Power line already outsells all other RISC processors (and Itanium) in servers, and Power8’s performance should help it maintain that lead. IBM has built a processor that excels in traditional enterprise and HPC applications. Power8 is perhaps the first commercial processor that is truly designed for really big data. These customers should satisfy IBM while it builds out its new data-center strategy.

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