Nobody wnats low performance server processors?

By: Paul A. Clayton (, March 9, 2016 3:22 pm
Room: Moderated Discussions
David Kanter ( on March 8, 2016 8:50 pm wrote:
> As it turns out, nobody really wants low performance server processors. Who
> could have imagined? :)

Even if you mean "processor" in the sense of socket/chip, I think "nobody" might be an exaggeration. The volume of potential sales might well be insufficient to support the development and manufacture of such systems, but I suspect there are use cases where the physical traits and incremental costs would be a good match.

If you mean "low performance core", I am even more skeptical that "nobody" wants such. A core with 90% the performance of current high-end cores would be much smaller and measurably more energy efficient, especially if there is significant specialization for "server" workloads. While going below half performance may not be useful (given the area and power overheads of the memory system),

It also depends on what performance one is measuring. A wimpy core that can only achieve 25% (or less) of the DGEMM performance of a high performance core may achieve 90% of the performance on a low ILP workload.

Obviously, everyone would like $2 5GHz, 16-wide issue 64-core processors with 4 GiB of 8 cycle latency cache and a TDP of 1 W. Also obviously, wimpy cores are more specialized than brawny cores, so a tradeoff of generality is made for cost or energy efficiency. However, I suspect that a wimpy core server processor would still be marketable. (Oracle's SPARC M4 might count as such.)

> Seriously though, things will get much more interesting
> now that the ARM camp is starting to use a modern process technology.

I don't know if near-future offerings will have a good accelerator infrastructure (both in available hardware and attractive software interfaces). (I would not be surprised if CAMs and other odd features of network processors could be exploited by some server workloads, but I am skeptical that the software infrastructure will be in place soon.) I also don't know if the core and memory system designs will be exploiting specializing opportunities. (Specialization has R&D costs, including time-to-market, and increases risk of poor market targeting, but this seems to be an area where Intel is weakest.)

It will also be interesting to see how the relationship between system vendor and processor vendor works out. Increasing physical integration improves performance, cost, density, and energy-efficiency, but it makes system differentiation more difficult.
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        Common wisdom??Paul A. Clayton2016/03/10 09:33 AM
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