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Mellanox Accelerates BlueField SoC

August 22, 2017

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

High-speed network adapters and distributed flash-storage arrays are about to get a boost. Mellanox is testing the first silicon of its new BlueField processor and plans to begin general sampling in October. Barring any last-minute problems, volume production should start in 1H18. The company has doubled the chip’s original packet-throughput target to 200Gbps.

BlueField combines intellectual property (IP) from three recently merged companies: Mellanox, EZchip, and Tilera. Mellanox’s main contribution is the ConnectX-5 Ethernet adapter, which becomes a fully integrated subsystem in the new SoC. From EZchip, the processor inherits vital packet acceleration. And from Tilera, it gains cryptography acceleration, a previously unreleased ARMv8 design, and experience building manycore processors using meshed tiles of programmable CPUs.

In particular, BlueField adopts the ARMv8 architecture and some acceleration hardware originally planned for Tilera’s next-generation Tile-Mx line. Instead of the ARM Cortex-A53 cores envisioned for the Tile-Mx100, however, Mellanox is using the brawnier Cortex-A72, which delivers about 2.5x more throughput per clock cycle. Thus, the largest BlueField design—a 16-core chip—will have about the same CPU horsepower as a 40-core A53-based chip. With help from the ConnectX-5 subsystem and other acceleration hardware, BlueField targets 200-gigabit networking—twice as fast as Tilera’s design target for the canceled Tile-Mx100.

Although BlueField is running about three quarters behind the company’s original schedule, it’s coming hot on the heels of Broadcom’s new NetXtreme BCM58808H processor, which also uses Cortex-A72 and is similar in other ways. Broadcom’s octa-core chip will probably reach the market first, though, because it’s already sampling.

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