The CPU wars are far from over, but the battlegrounds have shifted of late. Where once we looked primarily at the high-end processing options, today we tend to cover nearly as much in the ARM licensing world as we do in the x86 world. IBM is joining with Google, NVIDIA, Mellanox, and Tyan to create the OpenPOWER Consortium, with the intent being to build advanced server, networking, storage, and GPU-accelerated technologies based on IBM’s POWER microprocessor architecture. High performance computing clusters and cloud computing are other areas of focus for OpenPOWER.

Along with the forming of the OpenPOWER Consortium, POWER hardware and software will be made available for open development for the first time, and POWER IP will be licensable to others. (While not stated explicitly in the news release, Ars Technica's Andrew Cunningham reports that licensing will begin with POWER8.) Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive at IBM, states, “Combining our talents and assets around the POWER architecture can greatly increase the rate of innovation throughout the industry. Developers now have access to an expanded and open set of server technologies for the first time. This type of ‘collaborative development’ model will change the way data center hardware is designed and deployed.”

The NVIDIA aspect is also interesting, considering how many of the Top 500 Supercomputer list now use some form of GPU. Sumit Gupta from NVIDIA’s Tesla Accelerated Computing Business states, “The OpenPOWER Consortium brings together an ecosystem of hardware, system software, and enterprise applications that will provide powerful computing systems based on NVIDIA GPUs and POWER CPUs.” Considering NVIDIA has also announced their intent to license Kepler and future GPU IP to third parties, we could potentially see SoCs in the coming years with POWER-based CPU cores and NVIDIA-licensed GPU cores in place of the common ARM and PowerVR solutions so prevalent today.

This is clearly intended to slow and perhaps even reverse the exodus seen from the POWER architecture over the past decade. Apple switched from POWER to x86 back in the Core 2 Duo days (2006), and after getting wins in both the current generation consoles (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) the next generation Xbox One and PlayStation 4 will both be going with x86 designs. Many are likely to see this as vindication of the IP (Intellectual Property) licensing route taken by ARM, with NVIDIA, and now IBM all looking to license their IP (not to mention AMD and others licensing ARM IP). Considering the decline in POWER use in recent years, this move should help give POWER more relevance in the future.

Source: IBM News Release

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  • althaz - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    But what are the actual benefits of "POWER" over x86 and ARM (and others)?

    Licensing is great, but it only matters if people actually want your IP.
  • Krysto - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    I assume the biggest advantage is customizability, just like for ARM chips (or perhaps even more so). It allows customers to make (roughly speaking) any type of chip they want, instead of relying on Intel's "stock" chips.

    Also ARM isn't in that high-end market yet, and probably the only competition there could be MIPS, but I think Imagination will be focusing more on mobile this decade at least. So yeah, I guess it makes some sense to do this at the very high-end levels, and it gives Nvidia the opportunity to stave off Xeon Phi.
  • Ramiliez - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Intel offers customizability too and x86 is cheap and has thriving market which translates to really cheap hardware unlike IBMs vendor lock-in. Thats why is IBM trying to openwash Power with this openpower marketing
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    I think this is IBM trying to get POWER to actually get used outside of IBM hardware. It may be too little, too late (RIP DEC Alpha and others), but we'll see. POWER processors tend to have a lot of options that appeal to the server market, more so than ARM servers I think, so as Krysto said there's now another option besides x86 or ARM for companies to look at. My guess: the licensing costs will be so high that no one will use it outside of academia. :-p
  • Krysto - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Yes, IBM has been disrupted for decades by Intel with its cheaper prices. But the ironic thing is this may be just a battle between dinosaurs in the end. ARM chips will be disrupting Intel soon, too, with cheaper prices and a more customizable model (everyone can make their own CPU/GPU cores), much in the same way Intel disrupted IBM.

    Nvidia is positioned to take advantage of that, too, with its Denver/Maxwell chips, and beyond.
  • iwod - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Exactly, i am going to assume it will be expensive. Coming from IBM.

    Would like Anandtech to do a summary on POWER, what is it good at ( if anything ).

    To my knowledge it isn't any better then Intel at the high end ( TCO wise ), and it doesn't offer anything special in the low end either.

    Which makes me kind of question its value of existence.
  • nevertell - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Well, IBM licenses it's software for the amount of cores, as many enterprises do, but you can use 2 intel cores for a single POWER license, so that's quite a good indication that Power does in fact beat Intel on some occasions. (And even with the 2 intel cores, customers often choose Power instead because of the higher performance).
  • MrSpadge - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    At the high end the current Power 7 offers some serious performance. The chips, caches power consumption and prices are truely massive. Don't know if power efficiency can get anywhere near Intel, though.
  • iwod - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Looks like i cant edit :(

    I just read over in HN that ARM, MIPS and POWER all surprise x86 in Unit shipment. And it is interesting that Automotive industry are all set on POWER, ( why is that? ).
  • Kevin G - Wednesday, August 7, 2013 - link

    Modern POWER and PowerPC chips share a common ISA. Early on when cars were first getting embedded computers, IBM made the push to get their embedded chips (PowerPC 400 series) into them. The rest has been historical. Another reason is that IBM has a IEEE compliant floating point unit incorporated within the PowerPC/POWER spec. Thus if an embeded PowerPC chip comes with a FPU, it will use the same FPU instructions as other PowerPC chips. (For comparison, ARM's FPU unit hasn't been standardized in its ISA until very recently.) This allowed software developers to keep their FPU code between generations of PowerPC chips.

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