Need a datacenter processor? Try our take-and-bake Neoverse N2 cores, says Arm

Just bring your own accelerator

Hot Chips Arm has unveiled a set of blueprints called Neoverse Compute Subsystems (CSS) that – inadvertently or not – takes the biz an inch closer to straight-up designing processors for its customers, rather than customers designing processors from Arm's technologies.

The Brit outfit's central business model is licensing CPUs, GPUs, and other chip building blocks to organizations that arrange those blueprints, plus any custom logic they develop themselves, into microprocessors and other components that power phones, PCs, servers, and loads of other gear.

Those licensees usually need to do a bunch of work configuring, integrating, testing, and validating that those Arm-supplied building blocks operate as expected with their own homegrown circuitry, which could provide things like AI or encryption acceleration.

What Neoverse CSS aims to do is provide a more complete set of CPU core designs and engineering materials that licencees can use to create datacenter-grade processors, hopefully making it easier and faster for those corporations to produce and deploy higher-end Arm-compatible silicon in clouds and on-prem equipment.

The product line is an heir of sorts to the Neoverse portfolio that Arm unleashed in 2018 and later licensed to Amazon, Nvidia, Ampere, Marvell, and no doubt others: that portfolio has off-the-shelf CPU cores engineers can integrate onto their dies, which are aimed primarily at datacenter and networking applications.

Neoverse CSS, announced on Monday at the Hot Chips conference, aims to cut the time and effort of developing a processor by providing what's essentially a take-and-bake set of CPU cores where most of the critical elements are already present in the design. Customers need only tweak the memory and I/O to their liking, then add desired on-or-off die accelerators, we're told.

"Customers love the scalable efficiency Arm Neoverse platforms deliver, but they don't want to reinvent the wheel – IP selection, system configuration, floor planning, verification, validation, third-party IP and fab integration – that comes with building a CPU compute subsystem," Steve Demski, a senior marketing manager for Arm's Hyperscale and HPC business, claimed earlier today.

"This is why we have developed Arm Neoverse CSS. Neoverse CSS comes delivered as customizable compute subsystem that is configured, verified, validated and PPA-optimized by Arm. Arm performs the undifferentiated heavy lifting, enabling Arm partners to build specialized silicon at a lower cost, with less risk and a faster time-to-market."

PPA being power, performance, and die area.

Arm's first CSS offering is built around its Neoverse N2 design, which was introduced two years ago and aimed at designers of silicon intended to power scale-out clouds, AI applications, 5G kit, data processing units (DPUs/SmartNICs), and networking equipment. One of the first chips to use the core was Marvell's Octeon 10 DPU, which we considered in late 2021.

According to Arm, CSS N2 can be configured with your choice of 24, 32, or 64 cores running at between 2.1GHz and 3.6Ghz, each with 1MB L2 cache and a total 64MB of shared system cache. The design also supports up to eight channels of DDR5 5600MT/s DRAM and boasts 64 lanes of PCIe 5.0 connectivity.

CSS N2 also supports built-in die-to-die communications using either the emerging Universal Chiplet Interconnect Express (UCIe) standard or custom PHYs for customers that want to integrate custom accelerators or build single-socket systems with 128 cores.

The IPO-ready British chip designer claims several CSS N2 designs have already been built, with others under active development, though was unable to name customers or detail devices they have designed.

Arm's latest offering comes as analysts say the Softbank-owned company's share of the datacenter market has reached double digits. A Bernstein Research report from early this month estimated that 10 percent of all servers are now running on Arm-based silicon, and that roughly 40 percent of those systems can be found in China.

That stat may have influenced Arm's decision to launch its Neoverse CSS offering with the N2 core rather than its more powerful V-series designs, which power AWS's Graviton3 and Nvidia's Grace superchips. As we learned from the Arm’s IPO disclosures last week, US sanctions mean it needs a special license to sell its most powerful Neoverse core designs in the Middle Kingdom. ®

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