Sunday, December 20th 2020

Microsoft is Engineering Custom Processors for Servers and Surface PCs

Designing a custom processor can be a rewarding thing. You can control your ecosystem surrounding it and get massive rewards in terms of application-specific performance uplift, or lower total cost of ownership. It seems like cloud providers have figured out that at their scale, designing a custom processor can get all of the above with the right amount of effort put into it. If you remember, in 2018, Amazon has announced its Graviton processor based on Arm instruction set architecture. Today, the company has almost 10% of its AWS instances based on the Graviton 1 or 2 processors, which is a massive win for a custom design.

Following Amazon's example, the next company to join the custom server processor race is going to be Microsoft. The Redmond based giant is looking to build a custom lineup of processors that are meant to satisfy Microsoft's most demanding sector - server space. The company's Azure arm is an important part where it has big and increasing revenue. By building a custom processor, it could satisfy the market needs better while delivering higher value. The sources of Bloomberg say that Microsoft is planning to use Arm ISA, and start building independence from the x86 vendors like Intel and AMD. Just like we saw with AWS, the industry cloud giants are starting to get silicon-independent and with their scale, they can drive the ecosystem surrounding the new processors forward rapidly. The sources are also speculating that the company is building custom processors for Surface PCs, and with Windows-on-Arm (WoA) project, Microsoft has laid the groundwork in that field as well.
Source: Bloomberg
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16 Comments on Microsoft is Engineering Custom Processors for Servers and Surface PCs

#1
biffzinker
Will these be a customized SoC with just the ISA license or using ARM’s prebuilt SoC blueprints? Previous news said these were the prebuilt option ARM offers companies.
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#2
lexluthermiester
biffzinker
Will these be a customized SoC with just the ISA license or using ARM’s prebuilt SoC blueprints? Previous news said these were the prebuilt option ARM offers companies.
I think they're going with the custom option. Likely to do an Apple M1-like thing but for the server market sector.
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#4
evernessince
Well it looks like if AMD wasn't going to kick Intel in the pants, it was going to happen anyways. Just only in the server market.

Not to mention, it appears that AMD is just as willing to jack up prices anyways. Good for the market to have alternative options, hopefully it will keep the greed in check.
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#5
Flanker
Everyone and their dogs are making custom processors these days
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#6
TechLurker
I was actually hoping to see a Ryzen/RDNA-based Surface tablet. Maybe if AMD can revive their K12 ARM design with a bit of Ryzen and RDNA with a bit of Xlinx magic, they could provide the same semi-custom solution MS is looking for in the tablet/ultraportables space.
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#7
renz496
TechLurker
I was actually hoping to see a Ryzen/RDNA-based Surface tablet. Maybe if AMD can revive their K12 ARM design with a bit of Ryzen and RDNA with a bit of Xlinx magic, they could provide the same semi-custom solution MS is looking for in the tablet/ultraportables space.
i heard AMD is building K12 for Amazon. but it seems Amazon are not satisfied with it's performance so they decided to do it themselves. that's how their Graviton being born. MS probably will aim to make fully custom CPU that is tailored just for their software ecosystem alone.
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#9
dicktracy
Everyone is migrating to Arm, slowly but surely. This is the final nail in the coffin for x86 if Microsoft jumps into the party.
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#10
Fourstaff
Yes please. Waiting for a legit alternatives to Macbook and their M1 chips. 15hr battery life and so on.
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#11
Mephis
evernessince
Well it looks like if AMD wasn't going to kick Intel in the pants, it was going to happen anyways. Just only in the server market.

Not to mention, it appears that AMD is just as willing to jack up prices anyways. Good for the market to have alternative options, hopefully it will keep the greed in check.
Except if Microsoft does this, they won't be selling them to others. Most likely they will go the rout of Amazon and their Graviton2 processors. And by that I mean, keep them in house and use them for Azure and web services.
dicktracy
Everyone is migrating to Arm, slowly but surely. This is the final nail in the coffin for x86 if Microsoft jumps into the party.
We are along way from the death of x86. It's coming death has been foretold to be around the corner for decades. This will have little impact on x86, outside of Intel and AMD losing a customer, because MS will keep these in house for web services and Azure.
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#12
Easy Rhino
Linux Advocate
Ha, you know if M$ is going to make it then it will be awful. It will take 10 years after initial production to get all the kinks out.
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#13
TumbleGeorge
X86 was good architecture, but seems agonizing. Out there has competition. Where is way to evolution for it? More instructions per clock, better algorithms? +X% or +small XX% performance with new generation, when in the past jump between generations was big XX%? But too late! Frequencies goes to limit, number of cores...it will soon reach meaningless values for home users, even for semi-pro users too, lithography is close to it's end of minimization, when electromigration will become unmanageable. To implement X86 on nanotubes or on bio organic seem like to make interstellar spaceship with tools from stone age.
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#14
lexluthermiester
dicktracy
Everyone is migrating to Arm, slowly but surely. This is the final nail in the coffin for x86 if Microsoft jumps into the party.
Not even close. RISC is great at some computing tasks but not all. CISC is great at all computing tasks but has high energy costs. You will never replace CISC with RISC for all computing tasks.
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#15
r9
lexluthermiester
Not even close. RISC is great at some computing tasks but not all. CISC is great at all computing tasks but has high energy costs. You will never replace CISC with RISC for all computing tasks.
Doesn't have to be all but it looks like z86 might be pushed aside in near future.
Apple M1 is mighty impressive for their first SoC.
Especially how well it emulates Mac X86 apps and Windows version of Witcher 3.
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#16
lexluthermiester
r9
Doesn't have to be all but it looks like z86 might be pushed aside in near future.
You mean X86.. And very unlikely.
r9
Apple M1 is mighty impressive for their first SoC.
That's Apple. The rest of the world isn't going in that direction. We don't really want too either. And just so you know, my Dell T3500 with a 10 year old Xeon CPU is still more powerful than Apple's new M1 hotness, by a solid margin.
r9
Especially how well it emulates Mac X86 apps and Windows version of Witcher 3.
I'm not buying into that last part. But I digress, we're getting off topic..
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