Calxeda’s ultra low-power EnergyCore server chip takes cues from smartphones

Ushering in the era of low-power servers, Austin, Texas-based Calxeda is today announcing its EnergyCore ARM-based processor, the first ever chip capable of running an entire server at a mere 5 watts.

The EnergyCore server-on-a-chip uses 90 percent less power (just 1.5 watts while idle), takes up 90 percent less space, and is half as expensive as traditional server solutions, according to the company. Since it’s based on ARM technology, Calxeda’s chips are taking a cue from the low-power, yet highly capable, ARM processors used in smartphones and tablets.

“ARM is to processors what Linux is to operating systems,” Calxeda VP of marketing Karl Freund told VentureBeat in an interview yesterday, referring to the way companies can build innovative technologies on top of ARM’s original designs. The EnergyCore chips are based on ARM’s quad-core Cortex A9, and they run at speeds between 1.1 gigahertz and 1.4 Ghz. But the company also added in an 80-gigabit fabric switch, which will allow for high data throughput, as well as an energy management engine.

The complete EnergyCore server node also includes 4 gigabytes of RAM. Calxeda’s chips are 32-bit, but the company says it will be ready to jump to 64-bit chips once ARM’s designs are complete.

Calxeda says its chips are best suited for target applications like storage and file serving, or web apps. You won’t see much of an advantage using EnergyCore servers for heavy duty video encoding, but for most other server uses it’s an ideal balance between low-energy usage and a decent amount of computing power. The company competes directly with Intel’s Atom chips and firms like SeaMicro who are building Atom-based servers.

Calxeda already has a launch partner in HP, which today announced its new server lineup based using the company’s technology. “A single rack of HP’s Calxeda servers delivers the throughput of some 700 traditional servers and dramatically simplifies the infrastructure needed to hook them all together and manage the cluster,” said Calxeda CEO and co-founder Barry Evans in a statement today.

Calxeda, formerly known as Smooth-Stone, raised $48 million in funding about 14 months ago from ARM, Advanced Technology Investment Company (ATIC), Battery Ventures, Flybridge Capital Partners and Highland Capital Partners.

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