ARM preps server push with 64-bit architecture

ARM has given details on its upcoming ARMv8 architecture, the company's first to include a 64-bit capability, in a clear sign the chipmaker is hoping to gets its chips into servers

ARM has unveiled ARMv8, a 64-bit processor architecture that steps up its efforts to get its low-powered chip designs into servers.

The processor architecture is a major shift, as it will be ARM's first to use a 64-bit instruction set, the company announced on Thursday. This means the company can now target consumer and enterprise applications that benefit from the feature, such as big data analysis, large-scale modelling and powerful video applications.

"We believe the ARMv8 architecture is ideally suited to enable the ARM partnership to continue to grow in 32-bit application spaces and brings diverse, innovative and energy-efficient solutions to 64-bit processing markets," the Cambridge-based company's chief technology officer, Mike Muller, said in a statement.

With the move, ARM hopes to provide a design that can be used by chipmakers to create both 32-bit and 64-bit products that can be used in both smartphones and servers. However, the relevance of a greater-than-4GB addressable memory space for modern smartphones is yet to become clear — most have a gigabyte of memory, if that.

Push into servers

The Cambridge-based chipmaker has already laid the groundwork for getting its chips into servers: it has backed ARM-based server start-up Calxeda, which is rumoured to be making servers for HP.

All the major chip companies — Intel, AMD, IBM, Fujitsu, Oracle — have Risc- and/or x86-based products with a 64-bit capability, along with start-ups such as Tilera. ARM's challenge is to get a foothold in a server market already dominated by these companies.

Such 64-bit processors have a larger addressable memory space — theoretically an exabyte, compared with 4GB for 32-bit ones. They can also yield great gains in performance for software that needs to juggle large amounts of data, such as databases, video applications and general scientific computing programs.

"The ARMv8 architecture... will bring the advantages of energy-efficient 64-bit computing to new applications such as high-end servers and computing," the chip designer said.

ARM customers such as Microsoft, chipmaker Nvidia and server maker Applied Micro gave their backing for the design, with Applied Micro saying it plans to create products based on the 64-bit chips for datacentres.

ARM plans to give details of chips based on the architecture in 2012, with prototype enterprise systems scheduled to arrive in 2014.

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