The processor is the building block of the data center. And it's been a sector in flux, with a series of recent announcements of new technology and capabilities, acquisitions and rumors of acquisitions. Here's a roundup:
Last month Intel (INTC) announced the Xeon 5600 line of processors and AMD announced the new Opteron Series 6000. In both cases a plethora of hardware manufacturers made announcements to support the new chips as well. Both companies then made quarterly financial reports, citing record quarters. Then Gartner Group said the first quarter of 2010 saw a 27.4 percent increase of worldwide PC shipments from the first quarter of 2009. Capping the April news avalanche, this morning AMD rolled out its Phenom II X6 processors for 3D desktop computing.
More Intel News
Other news came in April regarding Intel processors:
- Microsoft decided to drop Windows Server support from the Intel Itanium chip. Itanium was built for the high-end market, with 95 percent of server shipments coming from HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop - while Windows only accounts for about 5 percent of Itanium sales.
- During the Intel 5600 announcements, the new i7 processor was also announced as a six-core processor with 12 computing threads for client applications. At the time, many wondered where an Apple announcement was, saying that new MacBooks would support the i7 processor. Perhaps preoccupied with iPad activity on April 13th, Apple caught up and announced an updated MacBook Pro line with faster processors, powerful next-generation NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics and even longer battery life. The new 15 and 17 inch models feature Intel Core i5 and i7 processors.
- On April 14th Intel outlined the latest Intel Atom processor-based system-on-chip(SoC) products for embedded applications and described new research to allow hoe and small businesses to better use and manage energy. Targeting the embedded market, the SoC product will, for the first time, let other companies create PCI Express-compiant devices that directly connect to the chip.
Late last year Data Center Knowledge reported on the Tilera debut of a 100-core processor, with availability slated for 2010. he Tilera processors are based on its iMesh architecture that scales to hundreds of RISC-based cores on a single chip. Tilera joins many other companies that have tried to fight the x86 architecture that Intel and AMD standardize on and lure developers into the promise of unparalleled application performance speed with their chips.
Broadcom believes in Tilera - fronting a $25 million series-C round of investment financing last month. The technology used in Tilera chips grew out of chip research at M.I.T., with much of the funding coming from DARPA (essential involvement in the beginning of the Internet ).
Earlier this month PC World reported that Intel will ship computers with an experimental 48-core processor to researchers by the end of the second quarter. The 48-core processor's architecture includes improvements that cut memory and communication bottlenecks that affect current x86 chips.
Red hot mobile market
The mobile market is an intense battle for a staggering number of netbooks, smart phones and other devices selling like crazy. The biggest threat in the mobile processor market is UK-based ARM. ARM has not only shipped 15 billion ARM based chips to date, but they have a lot of intellectual property in the semiconductor market, with 600 processor licenses sold to more than 200 companies.
On the data center front, Austin Texas based Smooth-Stone is using ARM-based processors, like the ones used in smartphones, to create computers for corporate data centers. Smooth-Stone CEO Barry Evans was formerly an executive at Intel, where he worked in the ARM business unit. According to Evans the goal isn't power efficiency, it is "to completely remove power as an issue in the data center."
Even more interesting in ARM-related news is the heated battle between Apple and Google. Apple's iPad, and other legacy iPod's have used the ARM processor. According to the ARM web site 12 of the top 20 semiconductor companies used ARM intellectual property in their chips and Google, Dell, Lenovo and Sharp have all made announcements regarding mobile computers based on the ARM architecture. Google is rumored to be developingan iPad rival based on the Android operating system.
The gloves come off
Last week the hot rumor was that Apple is considering a bid for ARM Holdings. The theory is that Apple wants to take chip design in house and protect ARM technology from ending up in other mobile devices. ARM (ARMH) stock volume took off - on top of royalties already coming in from the iPad release a few weeks earlier. Apple has around $40 billion in cash and investments, and ARM is estimated to potentially go for around $8 billion. I would have to agree with Cnet News that this would be one messy deal if it went through.
In the same week of the Apple/ARM rumor, it was reported that Google had recently acquired little known Agnilux. Agniluxis a stealth chip start-up with employees who once designed custom silicon chips at PA Semiconductor, which was acquired by Apple in 2008. The NY Times article quotes a person familiar with the company as saying that one particular piece of expertise within Agnilux is "modular semi technology that allows you to regulate power more efficiently on the tablet form factor." While the press has disected the linguistic meaning of Agnilux, I have to like John Packowski at All Things Digital - Agnilux? Is that Latin for Annoy Steve Jobs?