This week we had the brief announcement of a new CPU from Ampere, called AmpereOne. Ampere has been getting a lot of momentum as alternatives for Arm cloud processors for those who are not Amazon and who did not make their own chips. In the next generation, Ampere is moving from the Arm Neoverse cores to a custom-designed core.
Just for some background, Ampere currently holds the title to the highest core count Arm CPu out there with the Ampere Altra Max at 128 cores. Both Oracle Cloud and Microsoft Azure are using Ampere’s chips as their offerings to counter AWS Graviton3. Beyond the US cloud providers, Ampere has become extremely popular in China because of its core count. In China, there are large populations and so applications like mobile gaming that require a dedicated core per user see an immense benefit from dedicated cores instead of hyper-threading. They also tend not to use higher-end acceleration or need the huge caches of Milan-X.
Intel is building high-performance cores, augmenting them with AI inference accelerators, crypto accelerators, and so forth. AMD is building chips with more cores and massive caches but are still focused on the maximum performance cores. Ampere is instead focused on these lower performance per core, but workloads that scale to higher core counts.
While its current generation is built upon Arm Neoverse cores, with the next generation Ampere is moving to its custom-designed cores. The new AmpereOne line will be a 5nm (presumably TSMC) line that incorporates DDR5 and PCIe Gen5 like Intel Sapphire Rapids and AMD Genoa. Still, we expect Ampere to focus on this cloud market where the focus is on the maximum core counts and where software license costs are less of a concern.
At first, the new chip in Ampere’s CEO’s hands (Renee James) looked similar to the Ampere Altra Max. One can see though that the pads are different between the AmpereOne (above) and the Altra Max (below.)
This is certainly an exciting development. What is more, and is important for the market, is really that the company is able to straddle a current Arm Neoverse “standard” core design as well as have a custom design. Ampere being able to have customers on both is a big deal as it is showing interoperability that has been the domain of x86 previously.
We did not get a lot on AmpereOne, but it is coming and the company says it is sampling. Both AMD and Intel will respond to this segment of the market with Sierra Forrest and Bergamo, but Ampere should be launched before those solutions. The fact is that the x86 cores have focused so much on performance per core, largely due to per-core licensing costs that dwarf CPU hardware costs, that it has led to a window for a cloud-native processor segment designed to provide the correct level of performance per core tied to cloud vCPUs, but then offer massive numbers of cores. There are trade-offs, but they seem reasonable given the market size for that.