How SolidRun aims to bridge the Arm developer gap with a 16-core workstation board

The SolidRun ClearFog offers full-featured workstation power and connectivity for peripherals, at an attainable price for professional developers.

Inside AWS Graviton: Arm servers available in public cloud for the first time Amazon's development of a homegrown Arm CPU, combined with new AMD EPYC powered instances announced this month, threaten Intel's hegemony in cloud computing and enterprise servers.

Interest in Arm-based computers continues to grow, as embedded computing vendor SolidRun announced the ClearFog ITX motherboard, a workstation-class system equipped with a 16-core NXP LX2160A CPU, with each Cortex-A72 core running at 2.2 GHz.

Compared to barebones single-board computers (SBCs) like the Raspberry Pi, or up-market systems like the quite capable ODROID-N2, the ClearFog ITX is a full-featured (though still relatively compact) motherboard with more expansive I/O than can be found on budget SBCs.

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The ClearFog ITX supports up to 64GB DDR4 SODIMM RAM (in a 2x32GB dual-channel configuration), an M.2 2240/2280/22110 SSD, an M.2 2230 with SIM card, MicroSD, eMMC, and four SATA 3.0 connections, with one QSFP28 100Gbps cage, four SFP+ ports, one RJ-45 for gigabit ethernet, one PCIe 4.0 x8 open slot (permitting the use of an x16 card), and three USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0 connections. It also includes a single MicroUSB slot for UART over USB debugging, and USB to STM32 for remote management.

The ClearFog ITX is actually a carrier board for a COM Express type 7 module, making the platform upgradeable as new CPUs become available-the RAM and eMMC ports are on the module board, and other storage and networking connections are on the ITX carrier board.

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The ClearFog ITX is a carrier board for a COM Express type 7 module, allowing for potential future upgrades if/when new Arm SoCs are released.

Image: SolidRun

The expandability and power this board offers does come at a price-the launch price will be $500, with the "official price" set at $750, according to Jon Nettleton, chief systems architect at SolidRun.

"We are working hard to keep the price down to get these boards into the hands of developers," Nettleton posted in comments at CNX. This does appear to be the case, as competing solutions like the ThunderXStation—the desktop version of the Cavium ThunderX2 platform—is offered by GIGABYTE at over $10,000.

Performance-per-watt is quite competitive with competing platforms, with initial benchmarks offering performance to an Intel Xeon Silver 4108. "The main SOC runs at a TDP of 32W, which in performance / watt benchmarks us similar to larger [AMD] Epyc cores (obviously they are core to core faster, but also use 6X the power)," Nettleton noted in the comments.

Bringing Arm to developers

Following Linus Torvalds' blistering criticism of the viability of Arm in data centers in February, the SolidRun ClearFog ITX is intended to address the difficulty of getting quality Arm hardware in the hands of developers.

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"Having capable workstation grade hardware will start to drive developer innovation for Arm in a different direction. No longer will we be trying to optimize things down to the lowest common denominator, but instead be developing to push the capabilities of the hardware," Nettleton wrote.

For more on Arm hardware, check out TechRepublic's coverage of AWS Graviton, the first Arm-powered server developed by Amazon, what Arm servers on AWS mean for your cloud and data center strategy, and Renesas' 10-year Linux support for 64-bit CPUs make it a solid choice for long-term deployment.

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