Amazon has announced that it has become the latest customer to take advantage of Intel's new-found passion for semi-custom processor design, teasing a new iteration of its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform based on an exclusive Haswell Xeon processor.
Typically, Intel has been a firm believer in the off-the-shelf design philosophy: based on market research and the demands of its customers, it designs a range of products from which each customer picks the one closest to its particular need. For Intel, that spells simplicity; for its customers, it can mean having to make certain sacrifices which would not be an issue with custom IP from chip design rivals like ARM. That's not to say Intel has never dabbled in custom and semi-custom design, of course: the original Microsoft Xbox games console featured a semi-custom processor based on the company's Coppermine Pentium III microarchitecture.
With its rival AMD enjoying a number of design wins for its own recently-launched semi-custom silicon division, including providing accelerated processing units (APUs) for both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, Intel appears to have renewed its focus on this area. Recently, the company announced it had developed a semi-custom version of its Xeon E7 processor family exclusively for Oracle's Exadata Database Machine systems; now, Amazon has confirmed it is the latest customer to take advantage.
In an announcement
by Jeff Barr, Amazon explained that it is to shortly launch an upgraded version of its EC2 cloud computing platform based around an exclusive semi-custom variant of Intel's Xeon E5 processor family. Based on the Haswell microarchitecture, the custom chip is named the Xeon E5-2666 V3 and is said to boast a 2.9GHz base speed and a 3.5GHz Turbo Boost speed. These chips will be placed into high-density servers and sold to customers in instances which double the number of virtual CPU cores provided from two with the new c4.large instance up to 36 per c4.8xlarge instance.
Interestingly, Intel is opting to keep precise details of its semi-custom designs a secret: the E5-2666 V3 does not appear on the company's Ark product database. As a result, precise specifications of the part - including its core count and thermal design profile - are unknown, but from the company's previous naming conventions it is likely to be a six-core part with HyperThreading and a minimum of 15MB of cache.