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Broadcom ventures into 64bit ARM core race

Posted: 21 Oct 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Broadcom? ARM SoCs? servers? communications infrastructure? FinFET?

Broadcom has stepped up its efforts to deliver 64bit ARM SoCs for servers and communications infrastructure with plans for a custom core that will be initially be made in a 16nm FinFET process. 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 64bit 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.


Figure 1: 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 virtualisation 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.

Seven intellectual property vendorsincluding Andes, ARM, Asocs, Cadence's Xtensa group, Ceva, Imagination's MIPS group, and Synopsys' ARC unitannounced new comms cores or enhancements to existing cores at the Linley event.

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