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February 6, 2018

Ex-Intel President launches new chip company Ampere – but can it beat Intel to the data centre?

Ampere is a fabless semiconductor company set to rival Intel in the cloud and data centre markets.

By Sabrina Dougall

Renee James, former President of Intel, has announced a shock new venture aimed at the cloud and data centre markets.

Setting her sights on hyperscale cloud applications, James believes new 64-bit ARM server processor maker Ampere will bring power to handle workloads for AI and big data storage in the data centre.

After a 28-year stint at the world’s biggest chipmaker, James has named herself CEO of Ampere, a startup fabless semiconductor company targeted at leading edge process design. James and her team are determined to stand out from the crowd through ARM chip feature differentiation and software optimized for workload-specific performance.

This is no ordinary start-up: James already employs more than 300 people with bases in Portland, China, India, Taiwan and Vietnam. Ampere has sampled its latest chip: a custom core ARM v8 64-bit with a speed of up to 3.3 GHz, 1TB of memory and 125W TDP. The bold venture is directly in competition with James’ former employer, as Intel released new Xeon Scalable Processor chips adopted by Google Cloud Platform last year. Yet Ampere claim its new component performs at 40% better energy efficiency compared with the Intel Xeon Silver, and its performance is a 90% improvement on Intel Zeon Gold in terms of value for money.

Ampere said its second and third products are already in the works.

“We have an opportunity with cloud computing to take a fresh approach with products that are built to address the new software ecosystem,” said James. “The workloads moving to the cloud require more memory, and at the same time, customers have stringent requirements for power, size and costs.

“The Ampere team’s approach and architecture meets the expectation on performance and power and gives customers the freedom to accelerate the delivery of the most memory-intensive applications and workloads.”

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Rival chipmakers have decades of reputation behind them: Intel is 49 years old, Santa Clara neighbour AMD, 48, and GPU giant NVIDIA, established 24 years ago. Yet James is confident. Though she faced a lot of pessimism from the first potential investors approached, her managerial reputation and links in the world of enterprise proved invaluable.

Ampere is led by CFO/COO Chi Miller, a former executive of Intel and Apple; AMCC Arm Lead Architect Greg Favor, formerly of AMD EVP; Hardware Engineering Rohit Vadwans, a 26-year veteran of Intel, and Atiq Bajwa, who spent 30 years at Intel before heading up the new company’s architecture.

Carlyle Group, where James took on an Operating Executive role after leaving Intel, is Ampere’s most substantial investor, with Oracle injecting its own share of funds after James resigned from her two-year Directorship at the firm at the end of 2017.

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