Nvidia Tegra K1 processor isn't just for games

The company's '192-core' Tegra processor is a possible play for ARM in the data center

At CES, Nvidia's been pushing its new Tegra K1 processor as a mobile-gaming monster, sporting 192 cores (strictly speaking, shaders) and capable of running cutting-edge game engines like Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4.

But let's not forget that Nvidia has also been making overtures to the data center, and the K1 might well serve as a good template for ARM processors there.

The big selling point for the Tegra K1 has been its GPU, and anyone who's even casually perused the specs for CUDA 6 knows how GPUs are at least as much today about offloading whole classes of computational problems from being CPU-bound. The variety of GPU in the K1, the Tesla, is at the heart of a whole line of server- and supercomputer-oriented Nvidia GPU products, and the number of applications that already exist for Nvidia's GPUs in the server arena is firmly established -- accelerating the delivery of virtual desktops, for instance.

That makes it all the more a fit for the data center, where fleets of 64-bit ARM processors are believed to provide a better penny-per-watt-performance ratio -- and far higher density -- than conventional x86 architectures. It's a good thing one of the Tegra K1 models sports dual 64-bit "Denver" CPUs, because Dell's engineers have gone on record as saying there's going to be little action in this space until 64-bit ARM starts hitting the market in good numbers. However, none of this has stopped Red Hat from prepping a 64-bit ARM-ready version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux for future release.

Part of the complexity of offering 64-bit ARM for servers is how tight integration needs to be between the processor itself and its attendant networking, memory, and I/O controllers. The K1, being a system-on-chip design, may have many of those problems already solved -- maybe not to the extent that a server-specific design would, but enough that a server version could be spun off from the 64-bit variety with only modest tweaking.

Finally, Nvidia could use the likes of the K1 to step in where others have already fallen short. HP was planning on offering a 32-bit ARM-based server courtesy of Calxeda, the EnergyCore ECX-2000. Unfortunately, the market wanted 64 bits -- which Calxeda had planned for 2014 -- and Calxeda has since closed its doors after it was unable to find more funding. Calxeda is now planning to sell off its intellectual property, which again makes one wonder if Nvidia might be in the running to snap it up and pick up where Calxeda left off. With any luck we won't have to wait long to find out.

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