March 26, 2018 // 10:52 a.m.
Gigabyte has announced the launch of the first dedicated workstation machine to feature a 64-bit Armv8 processor, based on technology developed by Cavium for the server market.
Gigabyte's ThunderXStation ticks the usual boxes for a workstation design: utilitarian 4U black tower chassis with lockable door, hot-swap hard drive bays, two 10-gigabit-Ethernet (10GbE) network ports, 1.6KW power supply, and up to 16 DDR4 memory channels across two processor sockets. Those sockets, meanwhile, can hold 64-bit Arm processors boasting 32 physical 2.2GHz Armv8 cores with four logical threads apiece - meaning a potential total, in its initial release, of up to 256 threads in a single workstation, a key selling point of the design.
The heart of the machine is a ThunderX2 processor, part of a family of high-performance many-core Arm parts introduced by Cavium back in 2014 and acquired by Marvell late last year. It's a part originally developed for the data centre market, though its impact there has been limited: Several companies had planned similar server-centric Arm parts and abruptly cancelled them in the face of x86's dominance in the arena, though in the past few months wins for Arm-based parts have included a niche game streaming platform and the significantly-less-niche load balancing, caching, and security host Cloudflare which announced a shift to Arm-based chips earlier this month, claiming that Arm would prove more cost-effective for its particular workloads than x86 parts even if the latter were provided at zero cost.
'Gigabyte has partnered with Cavium to deliver a broad range of server platforms optimised for cloud and HPC workloads based on ThunderX2 family of processors,' claims Andy Chen, assistant vice president at Gigabyte. 'With Arm servers moving mainstream, we saw significant customer demand for Arm workstations. ThunderXStation with its outstanding compute performance and excellent memory bandwidth coupled with graphics capabilities is designed to meet this demand. Our entire portfolio of ThunderX2 based systems are now available for order and we are seeing a strong demand for these platforms.'
According to Cavium's promotional slides (PDF warning) on the ThunderX2 family, which is currently available with up to 54 cores and 216 threads per chip, the part can be expected to roughly level-peg with Intel's Xeon Gold 6148 chip with compiler optimisations pushing that to a 15 percent lead for the ThunderX2 parts. That, of course, is key: Despite some moves to supporting the platform internally, Microsoft's Windows Server software - which holds a minority share of the data centre market - does not come in an Arm flavour, leaving those adopting the architecture running Linux-based operating systems and compiling from source for maximum performance, which will remain true in the workstation market too.
Gigabyte has confirmed it is accepting orders for the workstation now, though does not offer public information on pricing; those interested are asked to email email@example.com for more information.