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Amazon, Facebook Eye New Chips for Servers

Amazon.com, Google and Facebook are gaining expertise in a closely watched area of the server and microprocessor business, in a potential challenge to Intel.

For years, tech giants have built data centers comprised of larger servers that run x86 chips, the same microprocessors that run PCs and are mostly made by Intel. But new types of servers are emerging that can be more cost effective in part by using chips that are similar to those that power most mobile phones.

The so-called microservers use chips based on designs licensed by ARM, a U.K. firm whose technology is also used in iPhones, iPads and myriad other mobile devices.

The chips aren’t as powerful as the x86 processors found in most servers today, but they have two main benefits: They’re smaller and less power-hungry than traditional chips, and they’re not made by Intel, which controls around 95 percent of the market for server processors.

The new technology has created openings for tech companies that already design their own servers to also design the chips that power them and wean themselves off near-total dependence on Intel. The big Internet companies are still just testing the technology. But it holds the promise of allowing them to create microprocessors specifically designed for unique tasks, leading to power savings that could save them huge sums.

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