Calxeda joins the 64-bit ARM server chip race

Company will start production of 64-bit chips for ARM servers by 2014

ARM's efforts to jump from smartphones and tablets to servers received a vote of confidence from chip company Calxeda, which announced Wednesday that it has ramped up efforts to push 64-bit ARM processors into servers by 2014.

Four-year-old Calxeda is developing a chip code-named Lagos, which will be based on ARM's 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. ARM, which licenses processor designs to chip makers, announced the 64-bit architecture in October last year and has said that servers with chips based on its 64-bit architecture will be available around 2014 or later.

The announcement comes on the heels of Calxeda's announcement of US$55 million in capital funding last week, which gives the company more financial resources to focus on chip development. The company has more than 100 employees in U.S. and Asia.

"We will have 64-bit production product in 2014," said Karl Freund, vice president of marketing at Calxeda, in an e-mail.

ARM processors are found in most smartphones and tablets today, but are also attracting interest as an energy-efficient way to handle large volumes of Web requests. Some industry watchers believe thousands of ARM servers could help cut energy bills while more efficiently processing Web requests such as search or social network requests compared to x86 server chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, which are used in most servers today.

Calxeda offers a chip 32-bit server called EnergyCore, which is based on the Cortex-A9 processor design. The chip is used in prototype servers from Dell and Hewlett-Packard and offered to customers for benchmarking and testing purposes. A company called Boston Ltd. is one of the few companies commercially selling servers based on EnergyCore. Calxeda is also trying to raise awareness about its chip by demonstrating servers at trade shows.

However, there are some drawbacks with current ARM processors, including a lack of virtualization features and support for only 32-bit addressing, which limits memory and storage capacity on servers. Most of today's operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS, are based on a 64-bit architecture, which helps tackle a transaction-heavy and data-intensive applications. However, Calxeda customers have been able to run Web-enabled frameworks critical for cloud services such as Java, LAMP (Linux, Apache server, MySQL, Python) and Ruby on Rails without changing code.

ARM is also playing catch-up with Intel, whose server chips are already 64-bit. ARM later this year is expected to announce new processor designs based on its 64-bit architecture. But to tackle the ARM threat, Intel will start shipping new 64-bit low-power Atom S-series server chips later this year.

Calxeda will also help developers write applications for 64-bit ARM servers. ARM is already providing developer tools, and in August released code for Linux to support the ARMv8 instruction set, which is now being picked up by various distributions, including Ubuntu.

Other companies developing ARM server chips include Cavium and AppliedMicro. AppliedMicro hopes to come out with 64-bit ARM test servers next year, which ARM has said will be sold at a cheap price to developers in an effort to stimulate software development.

Calxeda on Wednesday also said it is developing a chip called Midway, based on ARM's upcoming Cortex-A15 processor core. The new chip will become available in 2013 and add more performance, memory and virtualization features, the company said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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