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Marvell says it has samples of TSMC-made 5nm server DPUs – and 3nm is next

Octeon 10 packs Arm CPU cores, crypto and AI acceleration, and more

Marvell has produced samples of a server microprocessor with up to 24 Arm-compatible cores that could be used for applications involving artificial intelligence as well as network management, a spokesperson told The Register.

These chips are part of the Octeon family, and Marvell refers to them as data processing units. They are designed to run high-throughput code in cloud and data center environments, the company said.

"We are sampling Octeon silicon to our customers and they're working to bring their products to market next year," a spokeswoman said this week.

Data processing unit, aka DPU, is an irritating label because all computer processors are data-processing units. The industry has taken to use the term for specialized accelerators to which CPU cores can offload routine but intensive work, such as network packet processing, data encryption and compression, and AI inference and training. You might also know them as SmartNICs.

The goal here is to run these workloads on hardware designed to handle the tasks fast and efficiently, and free up host CPU cores to run general-purpose applications. DPUs tend to be many core devices that sit on network paths, and are connected to other processors and storage via buses or tighter integration.

Marvell said these latest Octeon 10 parts [product brief PDF] could be used to process data at, say, the edge of 5G wireless networks as well as perform packet filtering and some machine-learning tasks.

These components have, for one, competition from Nvidia's BlueField-3 data processing unit, which crams in up to 16 Arm Cortex-A78 CPU cores plus 16 programmable accelerator cores that have 256 execution threads total as well as PCIe and Ethernet connectivity. Nvidia on Tuesday announced it was including Lenovo in VMware's Project Monterey program, which is an effort to redesign servers with technologies including Bluefield DPUs.

Marvell said the Octeon 10 is three times faster and draws 50 per cent less power than its predecessor, the Octeon TX2. The hardware biz started making Octeon chips based on the MIPS architecture, and later added Arm cores to its lineup.

The chip has machine-learning and cryptography acceleration units as well as packet parsers, and supports DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 interconnects plus Ethernet up to 400G, depending on the SKU. The 2.5GHz CPU cores use Arm's Neoverse N2 design, which was introduced earlier this year.

Marvell on its website claimed the chip is the first 5nm server-class accelerator of its kind. The chips will be manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., otherwise known as TSMC, on its 5nm node.

Marvell also said it hopes to put out chips for data centers and 5G kit made using TSMC's 3nm node. These processors will have new technologies for faster connections between multiple dies in a package, we're told. TSMC plans to fabricate mobile and data-center parts in volume on 3nm in the latter-half of next year.

Marvell, which is mainly known for its networking gear, also unveiled the Prestera DX 7321 Ethernet switch, also made using a 5nm process.

The switch is designed to facilitate faster data transfers along the back-end of 5G infrastructure. It supports OpenRAN, an industry-wide open hardware and software effort to decouple and widen the 5G network infrastructure. ®

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