The year's first Intel Developer Forum has kicked off in Beijing, China. Today's keynote address is filled with details about Intel's future server processors, including fresh additions to the Atom and Xeon families, plus a new design concept for the next generation of datacenter servers. Let's start with the rack-scale architecture, which Intel sees as the future for the datacenter.
Today, server racks are typically filled with largely complete systems that may share power and cooling components but little else. Intel wants to break things up, separating the core processing platform from the storage and networking elements. Those base building blocks would be joined by an ultra-fast switch fabric based on silicon photonics technology. This disaggregation is expected to make servers more flexible, cheaper to operate, easier to manage, and more efficient overall.
Intel is working with Alibaba, Baidu, Tecent, and China Telecom on an initiative called Project Scorpio that puts some of those design goals into practice. HP is moving in the same direction, as well. Last year, we learned that the PC maker would offer high-density Project Moonshot systems using modular cartridges based on Atom CPUs. The first Moonshot machines are now shipping with the Atom S1200 processors Intel announced in December. New Moonshot servers based on Intel's upcoming Silvermont Atom refresh are expected later this year, as well.
The next generation of Atom processors, Dubbed Avonton, will purportedly allow HP to pack four times the number of SoCs into each Moonshot server. The individual Avonton chips should be more potent than the Centerton silicon from the Atom S1200 family, and Ethernet connectivity will be integrated this time around. Avonton is being be fabbed on the same 22-nm process as current Ivy Bridge chips. According to the keynote presentation, the new server-grade Atom is sampling now and will be available in the second half of the year. It will be joined by Rangley, a tweaked version of the SoC aimed at networking gear like routers, switches, and security appliances.
Speaking of specialized Atom processors, Intel used the IDF keynote to reveal the Atom S12x9, which is available now. Based on the current Saltwell Atom CPU architecture, this SoC is designed for storage products and features 40 lanes of PCIe 2.0 connectivity—five times the number of lanes present in Atom S1200 chips. The S12x9 family employs hardware-based RAID acceleration to reduce the processing load for the CPU cores. It also supports Asynchronous DRAM Self-Refresh, which "can protect critical DRAM data in the event of a power interruption."
The IDF keynote also dropped some details on several upcoming Xeons, including a new E3 family based on the Haswell microarchitecture. The Xeon E3 series is due in mid-2013 and promises TDP ratings as low as 13W. These chips will be limited to single-socket systems and offer up to four cores and 8MB of L3 cache. You can expect 20 integrated PCIe 3.0 lanes and support for up to 32GB of memory. The desktop versions of Haswell will probably bear a striking resemblance to the E3 CPUs.
Higher up the Xeon line is the E5 family, which is getting a refresh in the form of Ivy Bridge-EP silicon. These processors will sport up to eight cores and be available for dual-socket systems starting in the third quarter. Also on the menu: 20MB of L3 cache, 80 PCIe 3.0 lanes, and support for up to 768GB of system RAM.
The big daddy in the Xeon camp is the E7 family. Based on Ivy Bridge-EX silicon, these monsters will boast up to 10 cores per processor and support systems with four or more sockets. Intel says eight-socket systems can address up to 12TB of RAM, which is more memory than most folks have storage. The E7 chips will also feature 30MB of L3 cache and 144 PCIe lanes. They'll have 130W TDP ratings, as well. The other Xeon chips cover a range of thermal envelopes from 13 to 130W.