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China start-up makes noise with ARM-based server SoCs

Posted: 03 Sep 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Phytium Technology? SoC? server? ARM? CEC?

During the recent Hot Chips event, Phytium Technology Co. Ltd has unveiled details of its Mars design, which it claims to be one of the most aggressive ARM-based server SoCs in the market. It turns out Phytium is a start-up inside the belly of a giant, China Electronics Corp. (CEC), one of China's oldest and largest state-run enterprises in the industry. The conglomerate employs 70,000 people and develops everything from military and space electronics to consumer appliances and education software.

CEC was the first organisation to run a submicron fab in China. Its website hosts pictures of its gadgets in the hands of China's leaders going back to Mao Zedong.

Since Phytium's founding in 2012 in Guangzhou, a few processor designers that joined have worked at well-known chip design companies in China, including HiSilicon, Longsoon and Spreadtrum.

Charles Zhang

"Our design team was inherited from CEC, [but] in recent years we have grown rapidly and employed many experienced architects and designers, especially from research institutes and universities," said Charles Zhang, the director of research of Phytium.

The company's English name is not meant to be a reference to the plant parasite that can create root rot. It was created as a combination of physics, to suggest science or high tech, along with the "-ium" suffix Intel often uses as a brand for its processors such as Pentium and Itanium.

"Intel is the big company in this area, so we are paying our respects to the corporation," said Zhang. That said, "we don't want to compare ourselves with Intel...it's a big company with a long history of success and we are a three-year-old startup," he added.

Indeed, Phytium is focused on finding sockets for its Mars chip in a new class of systems it hopes China's server makers will sell in the indigenous market.

"We have talked many times to server providers [in China] and based on their input we have done some evaluations, I think they are satisfied with the result," Zhang said. "Server providers have done evaluations based on our models and we are confident our products will satisfy their requirements for future server products," he said.

Mars is 'only a beginning'

The domestic market is a good place for Phytium to start. Local vendors such as Inspur, Lenovo, Huawei and Sugon dominate the China server market that accounts for a little more than 10 per cent of worldwide server revenues, but it is growing at a faster pace than the overall market, according to market watcher Gartner.

Like their U.S. counterparts, China's server vendors are focused on x86 chips from Intel and AMD today. But "as commercial corporations, they want to have many choices to reach many market segments and highly efficient ARM systems are a very good choice," he said.

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