Design Con 2015

Broadcom muscles into ARM servers with 64-bit core

Rick Merritt

October 14, 2013

Rick MerrittOctober 14, 2013

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Broadcom jumped into the race to deliver 64-bit ARM SoCs for servers and comms infrastructure gear with plans for a custom core initially made in a 16 nm FinFET process. Broadcom will present its plans at the Linley Processor Conference amid a handful of announcements, including a new Freescale ARM-based SoC for comms gear.

With the news, Broadcom signals its plans to shift from MIPS to ARM for a broad array of products. It follows similar announcements from a handful of its top competitors.

"It's pretty clear ARM and the x86 will win out" in comms, said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst with the Linley Group in an email exchange.

"Seven of the eight top comms processor vendors have announced or deployed an ARM strategy," Gwennap said. "Once these ARM SoCs enter production, demand for MIPS and PowerPC chips will phase out over time," he said, noting ARM's new 64-bit architecture will be a key enabler to its gaining traction.

The PowerPC still dominates in today's comms chips, followed by the x86 and MIPS. ARM only has "a toehold" today and could take five to ten years to rise up the ranks, Gwennap predicts. Nevertheless, the shift to ARM has become a stampede with AMD, Broadcom, Cavium, Freescale, LSI, and several others planning parts for servers and comms infrastructure, he said.

ARM and x86 are expected to take over the PowerPC dominant role. (Source: The Linley Group)
ARM and x86 are expected to take over the PowerPC dominant role.
(Source: The Linley Group)

Broadcom is designing a custom quad-issue, quad-threaded, out-of-order ARMv8 processor that Gwennap expects will "raise the bar" in single and multi-core performance. The core will power SoCs aimed at server, comms, storage, and security systems. The fact the core is being designed in a 16 nm FinFET process suggests first parts may not ship until late 2014.

Separately, Broadcom said it is working with carriers, Linaro, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to help create a software environment for network virtualization supporting ARM and other architectures. The software will help Broadcom's users migrate from its current MIPS-based XLP processors to its future ARM SoCs, the company said.

For its part, Freescale is announcing its first ARM processors under its Layerscape initiative, announced in mid-2012. The company designed custom PowerPC cores and was the first with high-end 28 nm comms processor, said Gwennap.

However, Freescale slipped two points in comms market share rankings last year with weakness in sales to wireless base stations, Gwennap said. By contrast, Broadcom had strong growth thanks to its NetLogic acquisition, and Intel saw healthy growth last year, he said. For its part, Cavium stalled, its Octeon II chip coming late to market, he added.

To read more, go to "IP blocks and memory hurdles."

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