"I expect the TSMC/Samsung at 10-nm to be similar or slightly better than Intel's 14-nm," Kanter said. "The right way to judge this is by looking at the transistor contacted gate pitch and the minimum metal pitch. That tells you how closely things are spaced." The true advantages of manufacturing also depend on lithography and other details, he said.
While Qualcomm may not have a long-term manufacturing advantage over Intel, it'll be the better than other ARM server chips, which have had trouble reaching 14-nm, Brookwood said.
Qualcomm has already gained a foothold in China for its server chips, partnering with Guizhou Province to form a US$280 million joint venture called Guizhou Huaxintong Semiconductor Technology, which will design and sell server chipsets. But Qualcomm hasn't talked about corporate customers yet, and sales will depend on the software stack that will work with its server chips.
Also, more cloud installations are maneuvering to machine-learning technology to better analyze data, and it is designed around powerful chips like IBM's Power9 and Intel's Xeon combined with GPUs. However, it will become easier to attach GPUs to ARM-based server chips through emerging interconnects like Gen-Z, which is architecture agnostic.
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