Ampere Altra: 80 Cores, 3.3GHz Clocks, With 128 Cores Coming Soon


Ampere, founded by former Intel president Renee James, is one of a handful of upstart semiconductor design firms seeking to challenge the likes of Intel and AMD using the ARM architecture. The company released new information on its Altra line of processors this week, with details on TDPs, expected clocks, and core counts.

The Ampere Altra was originally expected to launch with up to 80 cores, but that’s been tweaked. While the original chips will still launch, Ampere will bring an even more powerful SKU to market later this year, with up to 128 cores.

This is one of the performance slides Ampere sent out. It’s intended to shore equivalent core scaling between Intel, AMD, and Ampere, but the tests were run using the Linux tool stress-ng. I don’t normally test in Linux, but the stress-ng page notes: “it has never been intended to be used as a precise benchmark test suite, so do NOT use it in this manner.” (Emphasis original).

The code used to run these tests was: stress-ng –c [0 – MAX_CPU-1] –t 30 –metrics-brief

If I’ve read the pages properly, this runs every CPU stress test and outputs the results. Ampere does not clarify which test they are graphing or if they are claiming these scaling results for the entire application. The difference of CentOS tested is also slightly different, though this may have no bearing on performance and could reflect the use of an Ampere-specific OS build for hardware compatibility. The Ampere system used CentOS 8.1.1911, while the Intel and AMD systems used 8.0.1905.

Ampere’s Altra is based on the ARM N1 Neoverse CPU core, like the Amazon Graviton2, and it’s intended to make ARM CPUs a viable option for hyperscale cloud providers. Ampere is tightly focused on this market, with Altra CPUs shipping in configurations of 32-80 CPUs initially with 128-core chips to follow.

TDP ranges from 85W – 250W in the main lineup, with a low-clocked 32-core, 1.7GHz CPU available in a 45-58W TDP bracket. At the top end, the Q80-33 offers 80 cores, 3.3GHz, and a 250W TDP. Unlike competing designs from AMD and Intel, Altra is an 80C/80T chip. As for competitive per-core power consumption, these figures imply Altra uses between 1.875W and 3.125W depending on clock speed. AMD’s Rome uses about 3W per core, so there’s a potential window for Ampere there — depending on how good comparative performance is.

The company has reported strong engagement with customers, with most of its clients interested in high-end, dual-socket configurations. Both Packet and Cloudflare have already been announced as customers and Ampere is a leading partner for CUDA on ARM. Altra will fully support CUDA when paired with an Nvidia GPU.

It’s going to be very interesting to see relative performance when chips like Altra hit the market. x86 is facing challenges in servers like it hasn’t for decades, and it isn’t clear how the dust will settle. Chips like the Altra are intended to challenge Intel and AMD in very specific markets at first, but we’ll be surprised if it stays that way.

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