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Alibaba’s T-Head Released The Self-Developed 5nm, 128-Core Cloud Chip Etian 710


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Alibaba’s T-Head Released The Self-Developed 5nm, 128-Core Cloud Chip Etian 710, Which Exceeded The Industry Benchmark By 20%

5nm, single-core 60 billion transistors, 128 cores, main frequency 3.2GHz...The first run score exceeded the industry benchmark by 20%, and the energy efficiency ratio increased by more than 50%. This is Alibaba’s T-Head Semiconductor, the latest core manufacturing results presented at the 2021 Yunqi Conference .

On October 19, at the 2021 Yunqi Conference, T-Head, a semiconductor company under Alibaba, released the self-developed cloud chip Etian 710. This chip is the most powerful ARM server chip in the industry, with a performance exceeding the industry benchmark by 20%, and an energy efficiency ratio improved by more than 50%. Etian 710 is an important step for Alibaba Cloud to promote the "one cloud, multiple cores" strategy. It is also Alibaba's first CPU chip for the cloud, which will be deployed in the Alibaba Cloud data centers.

The Eitian 710 is currently the most advanced SoC ever developed in China and is the third chip developed by T-Head since its establishment in 2018. However, neither Alibaba nor T-Head has disclosed which ARM cores the processor uses (we have a gut feeling that we're dealing with custom ARMv9 cores, but Alibaba has not formally confirmed it) or which foundry (TSMC or Samsung) produces the chip with a 5 nm node. Ampere, a developer of commercial ARM-based server SoCs, uses ARM's Neoverse N1 cores for its 128-core Altra Max M128-30 CPU but plans to switch to proprietary cores with its next-gen processors.

Named Etian 710 , a self-developed cloud chip, which refreshed the performance record of ARM server chips.

It is reported that Etian 710 server SoC uses the industry's most advanced 5nm process, and a single chip can accommodate up to 60 billion transistors, making it one of the most complex processors ever developed. For comparison, Nvidia's A100 packs 54 billion transistors, whereas Graphcore's Colossus MK2 has 59.4 billion transistors. In terms of chip architecture, based on the latest ARMv9 architecture, it contains a 128-core CPU with a clock speed of up to 3.2GHz, which can balance performance and power consumption at the same time. In terms of memory and interfaces, it integrates the industry's most advanced DDR5, 96 PCIe5.0 lanes and other technologies, which can effectively increase the transmission rate of the chip and can be adapted to different application scenarios of the cloud.

According to reports, prior to this, the most advanced process for server chips was still 7nm, and Etian 710 was the first to achieve a higher process and was the first server chip to use 5nm process. The 5nm process has extremely high requirements for energy density and the layout of the internal structure of the chip, during the development process, T-Head flexibly schedules up to 30 different EDA software, in-depth customized clock networks and customized IP technology. In addition, T-Head also uses advanced multi-chip stacking technology, finally successfully ensured the optimization of chip performance and power consumption.

Zhang Jianfeng, President of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence and Dean of Dharma Academy, said: "Based on Alibaba Cloud's business strategy of ‘One Cloud, Multiple Cores’ and ‘Building a Deep Foundation’, we released Etian 710, hoping to meet the diverse computing needs of customers. This chip is not for sale, mainly for Alibaba Cloud's own use. We will continue to maintain close cooperation with partners such as Intel, Nvidia, AMD, ARM, etc., to provide customers with more choices. Customizing our own server chips is consistent with our ongoing efforts toward boosting our computing capabilities with better performance and improved energy efficiency. We plan to use the chips to support current and future businesses across the Alibaba Group ecosystem."

In order to solve the bandwidth bottleneck under the condition of high concurrency of cloud computing, Etian 710 has carried out a special optimization design for on-chip interconnection, and effectively alleviates system congestion through a new flow control algorithm, thereby improving system efficiency and scalability. In the standard test set SPECint2017, the score of Etian 710 reached 440, that's comparable to the performance of a two-socket machine powered by Intel's 32-core Xeon Platinum 8362 (64 cores at 2.80 GHz), and which also exceeded the industry benchmark by 20%, and the energy efficiency ratio increased by more than 50%.

Cloud is the largest application scenario for high-performance server chips. Etian 710 is designed for the high concurrency, high performance and high energy efficiency requirements of cloud scenarios, combining leading chip design technology with the unique requirements of cloud scenarios, and finally achieving breakthroughs in performance and energy efficiency ratio. At present, Alibaba Cloud is fully compatible with mainstream chip architectures such as x86, ARM, and RISC-V. The self-developed Eitian 710 has further enriched the underlying technical architecture of Alibaba Cloud and cooperated with Feitian operating system to provide cloud customers with cost-effective cloud services.

According to Reuters, T-Head taped out the chip in mid-2021. Custom-designed chips allow Alibaba to get the performance and capabilities it needs at predictable power budgets. Furthermore, since the SoCs are developed entirely in-house, the company can also save some money as it will not have to pay a premium for server processors designed by AMD or Intel.

Alibaba isn't the only company developing custom SoCs for performance-demanding applications. AWS and Google are also designing their own processors for their data centers, whereas Apple installs its custom ARM-powered SoCs into its smartphones, tablets, desktops, and laptops.

General-purpose processor chips are one of the most complex chips in the data center. Its architecture is complex and requires extremely high performance and power consumption. Up to now, there are few companies with this technical strength. At present, Intel, AMD, AWS and A few companies such as Alibaba T-Head are in this list.

At present, T-Head has product families such as processor IP, AI chips and general-purpose chips, and its Xuantie series of processors have shipped 2.5 billion units; Ali’s first chip Hanguang 800, which came out two years ago, has achieved large-scale applications, through Alibaba Cloud services, search recommendation, video live broadcast and other industry customers.

In the past, T-Head has accumulated rich experience in AI chip and processor IP design, which is the basis for T-Head to break through the research and development technology of general chips. For T-Head, Etian 710 chip is the first general-purpose server chip,The successful development of Eitian chips indicates that T-Head has the ability to develop and design large and complex chips and has entered the ranks of first-class chip companies.

In the past 3 years since "life and death are indifferent, just do it", T-Head has successively launched the processor IP Xuantie 910 and AI reasoning chip Hanguang 800 , and they have been put into commercial use locally. When the dedicated chip Hanguang 800 was released, Zhang Jianfengsaid modestly: This is the first step of Pingtou Brother's long march. And now, with the release of Etian 710, the success of the general-purpose chip undoubtedly marks that T-Head Semiconductor has reached a larger milestone node-the difficult battle on the Long March has been overcome.

As a high-performance server chip, Etian 710 is designed for the high concurrency, high performance and high energy efficiency requirements of cloud scenarios. It combines the most cutting-edge chip design technology with the unique requirements of cloud scenarios to finally achieve a performance and energy efficiency ratio. breakthrough.

At the same time, it is also a landmark moment for Alibaba, which started the transformation of the commercial Internet to hard technology .

About the Author

Mark Chen is a China based freelance IC designer, IT and web developer, and writer in technology, personal and family stories, world affairs, and other topics. He served GE Alstom, Siemens and other multinationals in his earlier career. His current career focuses on IC technology and business, incl silicon IP core design (mainly modulator and demodulator), IC technology development reporting (the “World IC Technology Development Monthly Report”), IC and industry portal development and IC technology authoring (the book titled “Introduction to IP Core Design”). For details refer to his personal site , his site of IC expertise and his IC business site under