Renesas' 10-year Linux support for 64-bit CPUs make it a solid choice for long-term deployment

The Japanese semiconductor supergroup aims to provide high-reliability Arm SoCs with ECC support, and is committing to supporting and producing parts for at least the next decade.

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.

Last week, Renesas Electronics announced the RZ/G2 series of processors, utilizing 64-bit Arm Cortex-A57 and A53 cores. These core designs are tried and true--used in smartphones and other devices sold around the world--and not themselves noteworthy. In an interesting reversal, the point of focus of the newly-announced hardware is the software that runs on it, as Renesas touts a 10-year plus "Super Long-Term Support" window for the Linux kernel, making it extremely attractive for long-term deployment.

Perhaps the largest issue with using Arm-powered computers is inconsistent support between manufacturers and the ecosystems around boards. For single-board computers (SBCs), the issue is plainly evident with Raspberry Pi competitors, with provided software on the Orange Pi 3 "so buggy that even basic features are hobbled and broken," according to TechRepublic's Nick Heath. Because of this, long-term support should be the foremost consideration when purchasing Arm-powered hardware.

SEE: Hardware purchasing task list (Tech Pro Research)

The RZ/G2 series is the first 64-bit reference hardware for Civil Infrastructure Platform (CIP) project, a Linux Foundation group that aims to provide long-term hardware solutions for civil infrastructure use cases, emphasizing security and maintainability of underlying code while addressing security vulnerabilities as they arise.

Though the RZ/G2 series has features common to A57/A53 SoC designs, such as 4K video output, H.265 and H.264 hardware decoder, and support for USB 3.0, SATA, PCIe, Gigabit Ethernet, MIPI-CSI, and HDMI, the biggest hardware differentiating factor is support for DDR3L or LPDDR4 ECC RAM support, with ECC working on both the "on-chip L1/L2-cache memory and external DDR3L or LPDDR4 memory," according to a press release. ECC aims to reduce potential risk or instability due to memory data corruption, an increasing problem as semiconductor manufacturing processes continue to shrink.

The RZ/G2 series is planned to be split between four SKUs: RZ/G2E, RZ/G2N, RZ/G2M, and RZ/G2H. Samples of the mid-range RZ-G2M and low-end RZ/G2E are shipping now, with wide availability planned by Q1 2020. Renesas notes that Pioneer DJ is an early adopter of the RZ/G2 platform.

In its current incarnation, Renesas is a supergroup of the semiconductor divisions of Japanese electronics firms NEC Electronics, Hitachi, and Mitsubishi Electric. Renesas has also acquired the American firm Intersil in 2017, and plans to close an acquisition of IDT in the first half of 2019.

For more on the importance of vendor and ecosystem support on Arm devices, check out Raspberry Pi: No longer the fastest $35 computer but still the best and Linus Torvalds praises Arm servers, but claims the economics and ecosystem are missing.

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