Comparing Calxeda ECX1000 to Intel’s new S1200 Centerton chip

Based on what Intel disclosed today,  here’s a snapshot of Calxeda EnergyCore 1000 vs. Intel’s new S1200 chip:

ECX1000 Intel S1200
Watts 3.8 6.1
Cores 4 2
Cache (MB) 4 Shared 2 x .5 MB
PCI-E 16 lanes 8 lanes
ECC Yes Yes
Ethernet Yes No
Management Yes No
OOO Execution Yes No
Fabric Switch 80 Gb NA
Fabric ports 5 NA
Address Size 32 bits 64 bits
Memory Size 4 GB 8 GB

So, while the Centerton announcement indicates that Intel takes “microservers” seriously after all, it falls short of the ARM competition. It DOES have 64-bits and Intel ISA compatibility, however. Most workloads targeting ARM are interpreted code (PHP, LAMP, Java, etc), so this is not as big a deal as some would have you believe!Intel did not specify the additional chips required to deliver a real “Server Class” solution like Calxeda’s, but our analysis indicates this could add  10 additional watts PLUS the cost. That would imply the real comparison is between ECX and S1200 is ~3.8 vs ~16 watts. So roughly 3-4 times more power for Intel’s new S1200, again, comparing 2 cores to 4. Internal Calxeda benchmarks indicate that Calxeda’s four cores and larger cache delivery 50% more performance compared to the 2 hyper-threaded Atom cores. This translates to a Calxeda advantage of 4.5 to 6 times better performance per watt, depending on the nature of the application.


  1. Karl Freund says:

    Many have asked for benchmarks; if Intel publishes benchmarks for Centerton, we will do the same for ECX1000.

  2. Karl Freund says:

    Um, I made a mistake on the PCI-E. I meant to say we support PCI-2 x8. I said we support 8 lanes, obviously not the same thing! There are up to 16 lanes of PCIe Gen 2 that can be used as follows:
    * Two PCIe x8 lanes OR
    * Four PCIe x4 lanes (which could support x1, x2 devices as well)

    Sorry about that! At least we are BETTER than reported, not worse!

  3. NO BS, when will calxeda based budget NAS come out? OR can consumers buy calxeda bga from retail shop? How much is that?

    • Karl Freund says:

      No BS: Penguin Computing has a storage box available today. We don’t sell through retail (yet); you need to purchase a complete system.

  4. Not a fan of the S1200s faster clock and greater number of HW thread contexts per core? Can you tell us how the NEON SIMD extensions are implemented in Calxeda’s ECX1000? Which toolchain can I use for the ECX1000? Do you have SPEC2000 or SPEC2006 FP or INT performance numbers for the ECX1000?

  5. Well, I don’t know for Calxeda, but for having wasted a lot of time, money and energy trying to get something out of Marvell’s CPUs, I’m seriously thinking about switching back to intel now. The reason is simple : they’re documented and readily supported without having to resort to proprietary kernels that you can’t adapt to your needs. Seriously. I bought a Guruplug (armv5) and Mirabox (armv7) from Globalscale just to evaluate the designs (since you can’t even find any documentation). The first one is dog slow, the second one could be fast but can’t run a standard kernel, and theirs is buggy, insecure, outdated and crippled. I don’t want to be forced to select the applications I will run based on the CPU, it must be the opposite ! At least, even with a fanless Atom I can run the network at gigabit speed for real and I can patch my kernel to support the features I need. *THAT* makes a big difference. Granted I have to disable the power-hungry GPU that’s of no use to me, but that’s not the hardest thing to do.

    I think that for ARM to succeed in the server market, we first need a real ecosystem of supported hardware that work out of the box with acceptable performance. While you’re spending months with JTAG adapters trying to get your system to boot, competitors sell their products. And when you’re finally ready, your product is obsolete. Not to mention that evaluation kits are overpriced and docs can only be acquired via signing impossible NDAs for people working with opensource systems.

    BTW if anyone manages to find the openocd board description for an Armada370, please let me know, I already bricked my Mirabox and even the JTAG description is not provided despite them selling the JTAG adapter ! So it’s already useless. I don’t trash it yet, maybe in 3-5 years when it’s obsolete it will be documented and recoverable. By that time, I think that my systems will run on Atom. Pfffff crappy sales practices, really.

    • Karl Freund says:

      I just found this buried in my pile of SPAM, but decided to post it because the author is making some very good comments and observations. ARM needs time to get to the level where the gain isn’t overwhelmed by the pain unless you are a hobbyist or researcher. Its going to get there soon! AMD and APMC have the 64-bit parts for early samples, and I’m pretty confident HP and others will productize for hyper scale. The problem still remains to find someone to bring out a small, affordable, single-node development box!!!

      • I agree, finding affordable development boards is a misery. You always have to resort to end-user junk which is often optimized for a task opposite to yours. For example, I wanted to control a small hexapod robot, and the only small board that ran on it was a linuxstamp2 (4x6cm) with a SAM9G20 at 400 MHz (armv5). Pretty cool until I wanted to have a camera for vision. I upgraded it to a snowball. Never worked at all, broken design (maybe electrical or routing I don’t know, many week-ends wasted trying to get this thing *not* corrupt its eMMC or SD, and I ordered 2 other ones to compare and they were the same). Finally ditched it for a cubietruck (armv7). Pretty decent and featureful hardware, but quite a large board. Still, it’s the only one which provided me with what I need : 1 WiFi, 1 USB, 1 I2C, 1 UART, and a fast FPU (vfpv4 here). So for the same price, I get extra HDMI, GPIO, SATA, Ethernet, audio, etc… which double the board’s size and make it unusable for this design.

        And here the choice was not that hard because what I was looking for was clearly a subset of a board suited for the average end-user, so I could accept to have more and not to use it. Good luck for finding an affordable dual-GigE ARM board! Basically you have the dreamplug (armv5) and the mirabox (armv7). In the higher price ranges, you have the excellent OpenBlocks AX3, which is a jewel in terms of build quality and a bit of a jewel as well for the price :-) And when you need a development board with 3 or 4 ports to build a router or firewall, you basically buy a real router with an integrated switch that you turn into a development board !

        When building a server, you have no choice, you need to test hardware first, and it’s not by affording a mirabox or a cubieboard that you get a reasonable idea of how your server will perform. And it’s true that in the x86 world, it’s far much easier to find server-oriented hardware in various price ranges to quickly get an idea.

        Another problem with development boards in the ARM world is that their devices are not enumerable like they are on a PC. So you need a board description with each board, you cannot simply boot the same system on each board and cross fingers for everything to be detected as it should. I noticed that it’s what consumes most of the initial time on these devices : to get basic devices (console, nand, usb, pci, ethernet, sata) to work.
        And while it’s something fun to do on spare time, such solutions are never considered seriously at work because other people feel like we’re simply playing with an unfinished toy, so they’re not confident with having production run on that! And that’s a real shame, because with less heat these devices tend to experience less outages in the long run.


  1. [...] The 6W part is pretty obvious, the S1200 SoC has far higher energy consumption than all of it’s ARM based competition, and that doesn’t include the chipset. Intel Atom chipsets of late have been far more power [...]

  2. [...] Comparing Calxeda ECX1000 to Intel’s new S1200 Centerton chip [‘ARM Servers Now’ blog from Calxeda, Dec 11, 2012] [...]

  3. [...] on Calxeda’s ‘ARM Servers, Now!’ blog:- What is a “Server-Class” SOC? [Dec 12, 2012]- Comparing Calxeda ECX1000 to Intel’s new S1200 Centerton chip [Dec 11, 2012]which you can also find in my Intel targeting ARM based microservers: the Calxeda [...]

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