The Inspur NF5280R6 recently received Arm SystemReady certification. That means that the system is ready to support many popular OSes out of the box. Usually, this takes a lot of firmware work. Although we saw the system almost three quarters ago, this was a critical piece missing from the Ampere Altra Max server.
Inspur NF5280R6 is the Company’s Ampere Altra Max 2U 2P Server
As a quick reminder, the Inspur NF5280R6 utilizes either the Ampere Altra or Altra Max Arm server CPUs. The Altra scales to 80 cores while the Altra Max can hit 128 cores. Think of an Altra core as roughly half of an AMD EPYC Milan (not Milan-X) core in terms of performance.
These are not small and low-power chips. Instead, these are around the same size if not larger than their AMD and Intel counterparts. Ampere is not really focused on going head-to-head with AMD and Intel in mainstream markets. Instead, it has a PCIe Gen4 / DDR4 chip that is designed to have a certain amount of per-core performance and then scale that out to a large number of physical cores. An example of where this chip is very popular is with Chinese gaming companies. Many games require one core per user, so lowering the per core costs by getting more cores per server is a big win. Ampere is just ahead of AMD Bergamo and Intel Sierra Forrest on packing more lower-performing cores per socket.
The new Inspur NF5280R6 may look familiar. We reviewed the Inspur NF5280M6, the 2U Intel Xeon Server the Ice Lake update to the NF5280M5. Inspur uses a similar layout just changing the motherboard with new sockets for the Intel, AMD, and now Ampere chips.
While Inspur’s recent SystemReady announcement did not show the system, we actually saw it back at the OCP Summit 2021. You can see this server in the segment starting around 07:42 in this video:
If you look at the system there and our review of the M6 Intel version, the similarities will become quickly evident.
Arm servers are coming chiefly to address the cloud segment. While Intel and AMD have been focused on the maximum per-core performance, cloud providers focus more on achieving a certain vCPU performance level and then having as many consistent vCPUs available per server. Usually, cloud vCPUs are measured by things like SPEC CPU2017, so they do not take into account accelerators which can have a huge impact on performance as we saw in Stop Leaving Performance on the Table with AWS EC2 M6i Instances.
The Inspur R6 servers with Ampere Altra (Max) CPUs are designed more for this cloud model rather than traditional licensed enterprise software. Many workloads run well on Arm processors and do not have per-core license costs and that is the key area where these servers make a lot of sense.