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Applied Micro Unveils 64-Bit ARM 'HeliX'

SANTA CLARA—Applied Micro showed up at ARM TechCon with a new 64-bit ARM processor called HeliX, an embedded chip aimed at market segments like networking and communications, imaging, storage, and industrial systems.

"With the growth of I/O needs in switches etc., in storage with bigger Hadoop-type clusters, there's just pull here for 64-bit. Even for those apps that don't need the memory it's still nice having the tool set," said Applied Micro's Pat Patla.

The first HeliX series, which Applied Micro plans to ship by year's end, features 2.0GHz embedded processors with four and eight cores, 4-8MB of L3 cache, two channels of DDR3-1600 memory, 10-gigabit Ethernet support, plenty of PCIe 3.0 lanes, and support for two SATA 3.0 and two USB 2.0 I/O ports. First-generation HeliX chips are being manufactured at 40nm and will have TDPs ranging from about 20 to 30 watts, according to the company.

Things get even more interesting in 2015, when Applied Micro plans to roll out second-gen, 28nm HeliX chips which will include parts with up to eight cores and power draws as low as 8W, enabling fanless designs, according to Patla.

Applied Micro HeliX Roadmap/Credit: Applied Micro

Applied Micro also made news ahead of the ARM Tech Con developer conference being held here this week, teaming up with Hewlett-Packard on the first commercial release of a 64-bit ARM-based server. HP's ProLiant m400 cartridge for its Moonshot server framework packs an Applied Micro X-Gene System-on-a-Chip (SoC) and runs Canonical's Ubuntu operating system.

While ARM's push into 64-bit server computing with partners like Applied Micro and Advanced Micro Devices might generate more headlines, the same effort in the embedded space might yield more immediate results. Along with Applied Micro's new ARMv8-based HeliX offering, AMD is also showcasing a new 64-bit ARM embedded processor here at TechCon, one designed for network virtualization tasks.

AMD's new Embedded R-Series System-on-a-Chip, formerly code named Hierofalcon, teams up with the chip maker's x86-based APUs to perform live network traffic migration and "virtualize the functionality of a packet data network gateway, serving gateway, and a mobility management entity," according to the chip maker.

Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, offered some thoughts as to why many believe 64-bit ARM will be able to gain traction in the embedded space quicker than in servers.

"This year's TechCon sets the stage for ARM's vision of what it hopes to accomplish during the next decade or so. The company's chip architecture has established a commanding presence in mobile computing with phones and tablets, but what ARM really wants to do is become a driving force in embedded technologies and the data center," King said.

"The former market is made for ARM since success depends on crafting technologies and solutions that deliver first-rate energy efficiency while also supporting top line programming tools, sophisticated networking, and related back-end technologies. The latter is a harder sell since, though there's certainly been a great deal of sturm und drang regarding ARM servers, effective products and success stories have been harder to find."

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