Why it matters: ARM architecture typically uses less power but is inching closer to performance on par with x86 processors. One of Intel’s former presidents is running a startup that could take away some of Intel’s data center market share with new efficient chips offered at highly competitive prices.
Renee James is one of many Intel employees that has departed the company and started his own venture. The former Intel president is now leading a startup called Ampere Computing, which develops ARM processors intended for use in data centers.
Ampere is now launching its first batch of chips ranging in price from $550 to $850. Lenovo and several unnamed companies have already jumped on board as customers. Intel still holds a staggering 90 percent of the market in large scale data centers, but Ampere is hoping to make a dent in that number.
TSMC is Ampere’s manufacturing partner for the first run. Chips arrive in 16 and 32-core variants with clock speeds up to 3.3 GHz. This generation is based on TSMC’s 16nm FinFET process. Although clock speeds do not quite match with Intel’s, power consumption is less and pricing is highly competitive. Production of the ARM chips is also believed to be cheaper by comparison.
AMD is also taking aim at data centers, but is looking to offer its x86 platform as a solution instead of ARM-based products. Ampere’s rivals are truly Qualcomm and Cavium, which also make a variety of ARM products.
Already looking ahead, Ampere’s next generation of chips will be able to take advantage of TSMC’s 7nm process technology while Intel may still be struggling to get past the 10nm barrier. Further reduced power consumption and increased performance while maintaining lower prices could be enough to garner the interest of the largest buyers in the data center market: Google and Facebook.
Currently, Intel is unlikely to make it to market with 7nm processors intended for data centers until 2020. This delay will give plenty of opportunity for Ampere, AMD, and others to take a shot at winning some of the market share that has been locked up for years.
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