IBM released details today on its massive 12-core Power 8 microprocessor for cloud-based data center servers.
The chips are one of the last specialty processors left competing against the combined might Intel and Advanced Micro Devices with the x86 chip architecture. IBM still makes billions in revenue related to sales of servers and supercomputers that use the Power chips.
Jeff Stuecheli, a systems architect at IBM, said the chips will be the brains of huge computer systems that will keep the complex e-commerce systems up and running in the future. He showed a prototype chip, but he declined to say when the Power 8 processor will ship. It could be a while still, since IBM just launched its Power 7 processors in 2012.
The chip is 650 millimeters square, making it almost twice the size of the processor that Microsoft described today for the Xbox One. It will be built with IBM’s 22-nanometer silicon-on-insulator manufacturing technology. The chip is so complex that its circuitry is like a 15-story building, only miniaturize so it can fit in the palm of your hand.
“The 12 cores are very powerful,” Stuecheli said in a talk at the designers widened the data highways within the chip and built memory caches that are twice as fast as in the past.
The chip can transfer data within the chip at speeds of 230GB per second. It has a 96MB memory cache embedded within the processor. Each core is twice as efficient as past chips.
“The entire Power-based ecosystem has lost many supporters in the industry like Freescale, AppliedMicro, Xbox and Playstation, so Power 8 is very important to get right,” said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “It will be a real challenge to fight both Intel and AMD in this space given their scale, and very important to IBM given they are banking on Power architecture for the their platform future. We believe IBM will exit the X86 server market and sell their line to Lenovo, making Power 8 critical to IBM’s future success.”
At a speed of 4 GHz, the chip has bandwidth of 256GB of data per second.