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Ampere Pushes Neoverse to 80 Cores

April 7, 2020

Author: Linley Gwennap

Ampere Computing is sampling Altra, an 80-core server processor based on Arm’s Neoverse N1 design. In addition to the high core count, the 7nm chip boosts the peak CPU speed to 3.0GHz, maximizing total throughput. This choice, coupled with eight DRAM channels and 128 PCIe lanes, pushes the power to 210W TDP. The company will announce a full set of models as the chip approaches production; some of them will include fewer cores to meet other popular TDP points. Lacking x86 compatibility, the processor targets hyperscale cloud vendors that develop their own software, particularly for scale-out workloads. Ampere originally expected this processor to reach production by 2H19, but after achieving first silicon last December, volume production is now set for mid-2020.

To simplify the design task, the company licensed the Neoverse N1 from Arm. This platform comprises an extensive set of components, including the Ares (Cortex-A76) CPU, L3 cache controller, CMN-600 mesh interconnect, high-performance DRAM controllers, and a 64-core reference design. Both Amazon and Huawei have already produced 64-core processors (Graviton 2 and Kunpeng 920, respectively) based on this reference design. Ampere differentiated by adding 25% more cores (still using the CMN-600 mesh), improving the physical design to achieve a peak speed of 3.0GHz, and adding dual-socket support.

The Ares CPU achieves per-clock performance (IPC) similar to that of Intel’s Skylake when both employ the standard GCC compiler. But Skylake can clock much faster (up to 4.5GHz for Xeon Gold), generating a big single-thread-performance advantage. Thus, the Neoverse design is best suited to applications with many small threads, such as virtual machines and containerized services. Altra offers nearly three times as many cores as the largest single-die Xeon processor and 50% more threads; even AMD’s biggest Epyc processor falls short in core count.

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