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ARM 5-watt Calxeda Server – Operates on Cell Phone Chips

ARM ChipARM is strong-arming the server market with the smallest server. Calxeda released the EnergyCore ARM server-on-chip, or SoC, eating up a mere 1.5 watts. When idling, the SoC only requires 0.5 watts. HP is committing itself to manufacturing servers based on the technology. This is great news for Calxeda, since HP is the world’s largest manufacturer of servers. The SoC creams its closest competitor, Intel, who makes a 20-watt x86 server chip.

Calexda is counting on the successes of ARM in mobile devices to somehow magically apply to their attempts to challenge Intel in the commodity server market. They boast that their chip is ideal for scalable analytics, web serving, mid-tier infrastructure (in-memory databases and caching), big-data apps, and media streaming.

Calexda appears to be going after the leftovers in the server market, though, due to the 32-bit address of their chip. It is based on the ARM Cortex processor, but Intel will challenge them on exactly this point about addressing. Still, the form factor is small and the energy consumption puts Intel to shame. There is definitely a niche for this midget 32-bit chip.

The SoC may not have the software support that Intel does, but it may be a perfect fit for the emerging category of both web and cloud applications. If a data center has already invested too much on x86 architecture, the SoC could be an ideal solution. Some applications are better suited to many, smaller addressing spaces than fewer, larger ones. Consider Google Earth, where the query is for a geographic location of x and y.

HP reports that the perfect fitting scenarios in the web and cloud centers accounts for at least 10-15% of the entire data center market. Intel hopes it’s only 10%. At Forrester Research, Richard Fichera, VP, said, “The SoC is anywhere from three to five times more efficient with energy, which is becoming one of the most significant concerns of data centers today.” Calxeda has done what will take years for others to match.

The design inside the box, is akin to what SeaMicro is doing with the low-power Intel Atom servers. SoC components are able to communicate inside the box.

Critics of SoC are quick to point out the conservative tendencies in the character of the purchasers for the large data centers. They say that a new technology is not readily adopted and the CIO’s are more likely to keep with the familiar, in spite of its shortcomings. Everything runs on Intel, so what justifies the change?HP and Calxeda are looking for giants to slay. Their strategy assumes that the largest of the data centers have in-house talent that frees them from the chains of any certain legacy software.


  • 1.1 GHz to 1.4 GHz Multicore ARM Cortex processor
  • FPU (scalar) and NEON (SIMD) Floating Point support
  • 4 MB of onboard, shared L2 cache
  • Integrated ECC Memory Controller with 72-bit datapath
  • Power consumption at 100% CPU load = 5 watts
  • Power consumption while idling < 0.5 watts

The Achilles heel for Calxeda is that its silicon is manufactured by another company. This shifts the power to that partner. If someone else comes out with an SoC, Calxeda could lose everything and vanish. Intel, on the other hand, is one of the last remaining chip vendors to also produce its own silicon. Perhaps that will convince CIO’s to stay put with Intel. It is quite a risk to shift to a company that does not control its own silicon manufacturing.

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