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ARM sees its 32-bit chips being deployed in future servers

Not everything needs 64-bit addressing
Fri Apr 05 2013, 10:07
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CHIP DESIGNER ARM has said it expects that 32-bit ARM chips will be relevant in servers in the future.

Most of the talk around ARM's push into the server market has been centred around the firm's 64-bit ARMv8 architecture. However the firm told The INQUIRER that its existing 32-bit chips are well suited to particular server applications and sees them being used for years to come.

Lakshmi Mandyam, ARM director of Server Systems and Ecosystems noted that the firm's long-term success in the storage market - the firm's chips power most hard drive controllers - as one area where ARM's 32-bit chip architecture has not hindered adoption.

Mandyam referred to a recent storage area network deployment by Chinese internet firm Baidu to put a name behind her claims, adding that the firm's high performance Cortex A15 processor has physical address extensions (PAE) to overcome the 4GB RAM limit widely associated with 32-bit processors.

She said, "If you look at it from a storage server perspective in the Baidu example where there is a 32-bit processor and even in our 32-bit processor line in the Cortex A15 product, we have PAE so that certainly helps bring online more applications that can take advantage of that [feature].

"So from that perspective there is a wider class of applications that need greater than 4GB [of RAM] but could live below the 16GB capability that comes with our 64-bit addressing."

Mandyam said 32-bit processors could also be used in servers that merely serve content, but admitted that ARM's ARMv8 64-bit architecture will "open more doors" for the chip designer.

She said, "I think there will be a class of applications that will continue to exist where a cost-benefit of 32-bit architectures, especially highly integrated architectures, will continue to be valued. But there are certainly classes of applications that do require 64-bit and we definitely see that 64-bit will open more doors for us, there's no doubt about it."

According to Mandyam, ARM's 64-bit architecture will allow firms to "play with compute". However Mandyam's forecast that ARM's 32-bit chips will continue to be popular in storage servers is important for the firm, as many chip vendors, including Intel, see storage as a big growth market in the future as user generated data grows. The only difference is that ARM's 64-bit architecture will allow its licensees to sell chips that not only store the data but work on analysing it. µ


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