Qualcomm has been a leader in the smartphone and ARM SoC space for years. The company makes no secret of the fact that it desires part of the lucrative data center market nor of its plans to launch an ARM SoC aimed at servers. Recently Qualcomm introduced Centriq which we wanted to discuss as part of our Trends in Server Compute 2017 series. You can read some of the macro trends in that piece.
Qualcomm Centriq – Dark Horse of 2017 Compute?
Qualcomm recently unveiled a 48 core CPU aimed at the data center space. The Qualcomm Centriq is a 10nm ARMv8 SoC that hopes to penetrate the data center space. If we were betting, the Qualcomm Centriq is really a first generation shipping product, much like the Cavium ThunderX was in 2016.
In terms of release schedule, the company states that “[t]he Qualcomm Centriq 2400 processor is now available for sampling for select customers, and will be commercially available in the second half of 2017.” We read that quote as, “it is still in early sample phase and we hope to have launch partners by the second half of 2017 when we really launch the product.”
The big question is in terms of per-core performance. While we do not expect that the Centriq 2400 will hit Skylake-EP levels of per clock performance, we do hope it is competitive with the Cavium ThunderX2 which already promises more cores (54 v. 48) and a 2-3x improvement over the first generation part. There are many workloads such as serving cached content from RAM or disk that can work well even with a lower speed CPU.
The second half of 2017 is going to be a minefield on the server compute side. The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 will be launched alongside Skylake-EP, AMD’s Zen incarnation, and the Cavium ThunderX2. Qualcomm is launching a non-x86 processor into a crowded market. Our take is that Qualcomm needs a killer feature (or five) to make a splash with the Centriq 2400. Going after a commoditized hardware segment with different hardware makes for an uphill battle. Qualcomm seems to be willing to invest heavily in server SoCs so we hope to see a spectacular shipping product in 2017 rather than an early generation/ low volume shipping part.