New Startup SiPearl Will Challenge AMD, Intel for Control of the EU HPC Market


The new CPU design firm SiPearl may be a new company, but the company has massive ambitions in the HPC space. SiPearl is the name of the fabless semiconductor company that’s been tapped to design the first CPU built for the European Processor Initiative (EPI). The stated goal of the EPI? “to design and implement a roadmap for a new family of low-power European processors for extreme-scale computing, high-performance Big Data, and a range of emerging applications.”

SiPearl has licensed the Zeus core from ARM to use in this endeavor. Zeus is the upcoming next-gen core in the ARM Neoverse, and it’s expected to be derived from the Cortex-A77 and to use some of the same infrastructure as that core. The first generation of ARM Neoverse CPUs, codenamed Ares, was similar to the Cortex-A76 in most respects but contained a few key differences.

First, the chip was tuned to run at full clock rather than for the kind of power-saving modes that mobile SoCs are known for. Second, it contained a fully coherent L1 cache, in order to accelerate performance in virtual environments. Ares also offered a 1MB L2 cache, up from 512KB on the Cortex-A76. Finally, Ares was designed to work with a coherent mesh interconnect, rather than the cluster configuration used for ARM’s consumer parts.

While we don’t know what kinds of improvements Zeus will introduce over the Cortex-A77, we can reasonably expect they’ll be of this nature — tweaks and tuning to improve the core’s performance in server workloads. As the roadmap up above shows, SiPearl will introduce a chip based on TSMC’s 6nm node in 2021. 6nm appears to be a refined 7nm that leverages some learning from the EUV side of the business in an unspecified fashion. N6, to be clear, does not deploy EUV — it reuses the design rules of the previous generation — but TSMC apparently learned some tricks from EUV that it can bring over to the DUV side of the business.

Normally, the launch of a fabless CPU company with big ambitions wouldn’t warrant the declaration of war on Intel and AMD. But the fact that SiPearl is being underwritten by the European Processor Initiative — a project to develop an exascale-capable CPU using European companies and IP — means there’s more funding available than might otherwise be the case. SiPearl was awarded €6.2m of European Union subsidies to launch itself and is preparing to raise funds in order to finance its processor evolution up to the expected launch, in 2022.

It looks as though x86 and ARM are going to face off across the entire CPU market after all, at least in certain business segments. It may have taken a decade longer than some anticipated, but ARM is moving into every segment. Intel and AMD may have to stop slugging each other long enough to concentrate on a common rival if they want to maintain dominance in the market — and no, I’m not suggesting the two companies illegally collude to keep ARM-based hardware out of the server space.

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