The next Raptor OpenPOWER systems are coming, but they won't be Power10

Date: 2023-10-20T20:01:00-07:00


I'd like to first start out by saying I've been aware of new developments but made certain promises to keep my mouth shut until all the parties were ready to announce. (Phoronix is not so constrained.) Many of you noted an offhand comment in this YouTube video about Raptor announcing a new Power10 system. That got a lot of people excited, because while our POWER9 systems are doing well, in 2023 this dual-8 64-thread POWER9 is no longer cutting edge and we need new silicon in the pipeline to keep the ecosystem viable.

Raptor yesterday officially announced that we're not getting Power10 systems. The idea is we're going to be getting something better: the Solid Silicon S1. It's Power ISA 3.1 and fully compatible, but it's also a fully blob-free OpenPOWER successor to the POWER9, avoiding Power10's notorious binary firmware requirement for OMI RAM and I/O.

I asked Timothy Pearson at Raptor about the S1's specs, and he said it's a PCIe 5.0 DDR5 part running from the high 3GHz to low 4GHz clock range, with the exact frequency range to be determined. (OMI-based RAM not required!) The S1 is bi-endian, SMT-4 and will support at least two sockets with an 18-core option confirmed for certain and others to be evaluated. This compares very well with the Power10, which is also PCIe 5.0, also available as SMT-4 (though it has an SMT-8 option), and also clocks somewhere between 3.5GHz and 4GHz.

S1 embeds its own BMC, the X1 (or variant), which is (like Arctic Tern) a Microwatt-based ISA 3.1 core in Lattice ECP5 and iCE40 FPGAs with 512MB of DDR3 RAM, similar to the existing ASpeed BMC on current systems. X1 will in turn replace the existing Lattice-based FPGA in Arctic Tern as "Antarctic Tern," being a functional descendant of the same hardware, and should fill the same roles as a BMC upgrade for existing Raptor systems as well as the future BMC for the next generation systems and a platform in its own right. The X1 has "integrated 100% open root of trust" as you would expect for such a system-critical part.

Raptor's newest systems are planned for late 2024. There will be tiering, so most likely (though not confirmed) Blackbird, T2 and T2 server classes of systems will be available under new names. Price? Well, you'll just have to wait and see.

Solid Silicon is definitely a new name in the Power ecosystem and we don't know a lot about them. There's a web page, but the TwXitter and LinkedIn links are unpopulated as of this writing, and it's maddeningly minimal on actual content. Tim confirmed they are a new licensee and have been working on the design for at least a couple years. The press release gives a 737 area code, which is Austin, Texas, and the only Solid Silicon business entry I could find for Texas is this one for Solid Silicon Technology LLC in Plano. I'm told this isn't them, so if anyone from Solid Silicon would like to lift the corporate veil a little, drop me a line at ckaiser at floodgap dawt com. [UPDATE: The LinkedIn was updated after this posted, listing Todd Rooke as CEO. Rooke's listing indicates past experience with FPGAs, as well as his time at HPE and Microsoft. His location is given as Colorado Springs but Colorado lists no company by that name. Hopefully more to come.]

But besides new systems in the offing, it's also good news that we're getting — we hope — performant OpenPOWER chips that aren't from IBM. I don't have anything against IBM; I've worked with IBM hardware for literally decades, and my home server is a classic POWER6 that just keeps on truckin'. But IBM designs chips to benefit IBM's world, which is server rooms (ask anyone who's got one what it's like to share an office with a POWER8), and IBM doesn't do end-user sales. If Raptor has a good partner here who can design solid OpenPOWER chips for workstations and small servers, not traditionally IBM's present domain but one important for them to maintain if they want OpenPOWER to stay relevant, then in around a year we should be in for a treat — and a very rosy near future.