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ThunderX2 Strengthens ARM Servers

May 22, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

It’s been a long time coming, but Cavium is now shipping its ThunderX2 processor. The chip features the most powerful ARM CPU yet to reach market, implementing a custom microarchitecture that runs circles around the best Cortex CPUs available today, although it falls short of Intel’s massive Skylake. Still, the 32-core chip packs a mighty punch, delivering plenty of performance for mainstream data-center applications and even some high-performance computing (HPC).

The ThunderX2 CPU can fetch and decode four instructions per cycle and execute them using eight function units, including two for floating-point calculations. To further boost performance, each core supports up to four threads. In the fastest models, the CPU operates at a base speed of 2.5GHz and can reach 3.0GHz in turbo mode. The cores share 32MB of cache and eight DRAM channels—two more than most other server chips. The ThunderX2 SoC integrates the south bridge, enables the popular dual-socket configuration, and comes with server-class reliability features.

The downside of this powerful design is its power consumption, thanks in part to its lagging 16nm manufacturing technology. At its peak speed, the processor requires 210W TDP, although mainstream ThunderX2 models carry ratings of 140W to 180W. For customers that can stand the heat, the chip offers a cost-effective alternative to Xeon, selling for about half as much as comparable Intel products. HPC customers are particularly interested in the Cavium chip’s strong memory bandwidth, which is a limiting factor in some scientific applications that use large data sets. But ThunderX2 must compete against several other processors that undercut Xeon’s price, including AMD’s revived Epyc family and Qualcomm’s ARM-compatible Centriq.

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