Former Intel president launches new chip company with backing from Carlyle Group

Ampere, a new chip company run by former Intel president Renee James, came out of stealth today with a brand-new highly efficient Arm-based server chip targeted at hyperscale data centers.

The company’s first chip is a custom core Armv8-A 64-bit server operating at up to 3.3 GHz with 1TB of memory at a power envelope of 125 watts. Although James was not ready to share pricing, she promised that the chip would offer unsurpassed price/performance that would exceed any high performance computing chip out there.

The company has a couple of other products in the works as well, which it will unveil in the future

It takes a ton of money and some guts to launch a chip company, but James, who worked at Intel for 28 years, had the pedigree to pull in a highly experienced team of industry heavyweights to build the product. The company is being backed by The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm where James worked briefly after leaving Intel. She would not disclose the amount of funding, but did say her company was significantly well capitalized.

Ampere Microprocessor chip. Photo: Ampere

As for what motivated her to start a new company, she saw an opportunity to do something that had not had been done and she decided to pursue the challenge. “You’re only done until the next great thing is done, then you’re not done anymore,” she said.

The opportunity James saw was workloads moving to the cloud that required a new generation of chip technology that was more efficient than those that had been created in the past. Specifically, she wanted to build a high-density chip from the ground up that was extremely power/performance efficient at a lower cost.

The company, which is based in Santa Clara, launched in early 2017 and has between 300-400 people. As she pointed out, “this isn’t a garage startup.” The chips are in sampling right now with customers and partners and will go into production later this year. She but declined to name any customers just yet, but partners include Microsoft, Lenovo and Oracle.

Her company was designing this chip and getting ready to unveil it to the world when the Spectre and Meltdown bug news hit last month. As James acknowledged, no modern chip that uses speculative execution can escape these bugs, but she said the Arm exposure was minimal and the chips will have the patches built into them when they hit the market later this year.

She admits that taking on the chip giants requires some guts, but she does not shy away from the challenge. “When you are doing something new, that’s a breakthrough, people say, ‘how are you going to do this’?” She added, “My entire career I’ve been doing things I was told I couldn’t do.”