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M1 Xserve?
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Waragainstsleep
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Oct 28, 2021, 04:57 PM
 
So I've been thinking about the new Mac Pro chips and what else they might mean going forward. Smart money is on the bigger iMac being next in line and I'm guessing 20" mini LED with similar CPUs to the brand new MacBook Pros. Then the Mac Pro must surely be next.

I'm thinking somewhere along the line Apple would be insane not to resurrect the Xserve. (Yes, I expect they'll call it something else but its still a cool name).
The original G4 and G5 Xserves offered something different to other servers on the market. The Altivec units and later the 64-bit CPUs were not widely available from x86 servers back then so they were popular for cluster computing. The G4s were quite popular among certain scientists who built desktop clusters with several of them and a RAID and were suited to things like protein folding as I recall. The G5s had a raft of specialist applications for supercomputing and everyone here likely remembers the Virginia Tech cluster and the subsequent one built for designing missiles somewhere that got into the top 10 supercomputers for under a tenth the price of lower entries.
When Apple switched to Intel, the Xserve was doomed. It offered no advantage to those types of customer over the likes of Dell or HP who were updating theirs every few months while Apple overcharged for specs that were sometimes two years out of date.
Because these Macs weren't customer facing, no-one was willing to pay any premium for the more user-friendly OS that justified the price difference on other Apple hardware and so the demise of Xserve was inevitable.

Apple Silicon changes the game again. If you remove the display from one of the new MacBook Pros, those boxes are approximately 1/3 the height of a 1U rack server. And nowhere as deep. They're 5" narrower too. Theres a keyboard and a battery to remove too which means there is substantial space to play with if you want to add a huge SSD, PCI-E cards of some kind or maybe another CPU.
This means Apple could likely fit 123 of these blade servers (Ooh, what if it was an Xblade?) in a standard height server rack. With 246 M1 Max CPUs in it. I'm reasonably sure it would draw less power than an x86 rack too. I think most data centres would drool at that kind power/watt and footprint.
Apple themselves are increasingly focused on cloud services, the must harbour ambitions of being self reliant for the hardware they use instead of buying HPs.

Then there are a few nice little bonuses Apple could throw in too. Firstly, why not keep some kind of on-board batteries as backups? Save UPS space too.
Secondly, this is the perfect place to put a TouchBar. Monitor status, temp, CPU or I/O load etc. Reboot a blade without needing to remote into it.
Speaking of remoting in, what if the admin who was wandering around checking the racks could tap a couple of buttons on a TouchBar and use the iPad in their other hand with Sidecar to instantly get the screen up for that server to do more detailed checks or operations on it? No need to install those monitors in the racks now either.

All of this is doable with currently available hardware and software. Give or take. Who knows what they might do in terms of a customer server version of the M1. I really think they'd be mad not to get on this.
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reader50
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Oct 28, 2021, 07:39 PM
 
If Apple dips back into the server market, they'll hit the same issue that's keeping me away from the M1s: expandability / upgradeability.

A server needs a socketed CPU. Otherwise you can't upgrade it down the road. Likewise, it needs standard storage interfaces. Will apple provide machines with socketed M1s? Will they document the socket and either license out the M1 designs, or commit to future CPU sales that are pin-compatible with that socket? Will they provide hardware with numerous industry-standard drive interfaces?

Apple's recent record is not encouraging. Their most recent Mac Pro came with an end-of-life CPU socket, and two (2) SATA ports. Zero (0) M.2 ports. Proprietary storage ports, and undocumented CPU sockets aren't going to cut it in a server product.
     
OreoCookie
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Oct 28, 2021, 07:42 PM
 
I was always expecting that Apple would eventually build its own server hardware for its data centers and phases out S3 storage and Azure. They could use their own silicon and bootstrap a server product off of that. But so far (last I heard), they haven’t. I’m really surprised, they seem to be the last big company with a cloud component that doesn’t do that. Weird.

I agree that an Apple Silicon-based server would be sweet. But perhaps Apple could start a little more humbly, but I just have to wonder: what is taking them so long?
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Waragainstsleep  (op)
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Oct 28, 2021, 08:14 PM
 
I don't think Apple will prescribe to your industry standards. They didn't last time and they don't for much else. Theres definitely a healthy segment of high performance computing that will overlook limitations to get the best performance. I have to think that segment gets bigger when you have massive gains to be made on the power consumption front. Apple's resale value will help with the math there too. Not such a market for a 3 year old HP Proliant or Dell Poweredge. A 3 year old Mac thats whisper quiet and cool and can make a perfectly decent home or office server or just a desktop Mac is going to hold value a lot better.

As for why they haven't done it yet, its about the manufacturing capacity. Apple is already monopolising TSMC's output. Every Mac they transition from Intel adds pressure there. Thats likely why we don't have 30" iMacs yet. Apple are waiting for demand to normalise on the new MBPs. A really compelling server offering would provide a big spike in demand. Data centres would place big orders.
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OreoCookie
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Oct 29, 2021, 04:29 AM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
I don't think Apple will prescribe to your industry standards.
AFAIK none of the big cloud companies follow industry standards. Even “smaller” cloud hosters deploy custom hardware. At least when Apple develops custom servers for itself, I don't think this is an issue.

Apart from this, it seems to me that a hypothetical Apple ARM server would be quite standard otherwise: it relies on the standard ARM ISA, features PCIe, NVMe, etc. The only question mark would be the OS: if you wanted to run Linux or FreeBSD on it, you'd likely be out of luck. Apple needs to sign the OS for it to boot. Plus, you'd need driver support. But in principle that's possible.
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BLAZE_MkIV
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Nov 1, 2021, 09:22 AM
 
What part of MacOS do you need on a server you can't get with linux?
     
OreoCookie
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Nov 1, 2021, 07:45 PM
 
I personally don’t use Mac servers, but things like user management with a nice Mac UI would be a start. However, even if you are ok with deploying Linux, Apple would have to enable Linux support on these machines.
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BLAZE_MkIV
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Nov 2, 2021, 04:46 PM
 
Thats not what I'm getting at, what features of MacOS do you need on a server, that you can't get with a linux server? Why pay the Apple HW tax for commodity features?
     
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Nov 2, 2021, 04:49 PM
 
Originally Posted by BLAZE_MkIV View Post
Why pay the Apple HW tax for commodity features?
I think the point is with the new ARM chips, you're not just paying the Apple tax for commonly-available Intel hardware. The processor and power consumption are significantly better than current Intel chips, and both of those things are vital for servers.
     
OreoCookie
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Nov 2, 2021, 08:54 PM
 
Originally Posted by BLAZE_MkIV View Post
Thats not what I'm getting at, what features of MacOS do you need on a server, that you can't get with a linux server? Why pay the Apple HW tax for commodity features?
It’s not clear whether you’d be paying a tax: The 16” MacBook Pro got cheaper with the ARM transition, not more expensive. Besides, with server hardware a much, much more important aspect is service. Which is why Dell is still in business: it’s not that people love their computers, it is that IT staff loves their service. You can get 24-hour replacements if you are willing to pay for it. You don’t have to argue, it could be entirely your fault, but they’ll replace your machine/part with a new one. Period. That’s something that is holding Apple back, me thinks.

Plus, for larger deployments, the much higher energy efficiency and power consumption are absolutely arguments for Apple hardware. We forget the brief period where there was a handful of XServe G4 super computer clusters on the Top 500 list. ARM-based servers are also gaining in popularity, Amazon is clearly transitioning a substantial share of its cloud business to ARM-based servers (which are faster and cheaper) and AFAIK every other major cloud company is at least dipping its toes into the water.
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Waragainstsleep  (op)
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Nov 3, 2021, 04:37 PM
 
I think when you're on the scale of building data centres Apple does provide that kind of service, albeit at a bonkers price. That said, if you've got thousands of these things racked, you're gonna keep a few spares yourself. Cheaper than big service contracts.
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OreoCookie
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Nov 3, 2021, 11:02 PM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
I think when you're on the scale of building data centres Apple does provide that kind of service, albeit at a bonkers price. That said, if you've got thousands of these things racked, you're gonna keep a few spares yourself. Cheaper than big service contracts.
I think I did not explain myself clearly: I wasn't talking about Apple servicing its own machines, that's something it can do easily, but rather servicing the servers and machines of regular customers. But IMHO Apple should be offering that type of service one way or another, there are plenty of big companies with a massive install base of Apple hardware.

Customer service can be eye bleedingly expensive, but worth it to many companies. It's kinda weird, because a lot of companies allocate scraps for their internal IT. But when one of the higher up's laptop craps out and they get a replacement within essentially one day, that's something they notice and that they are willing to pay for.
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Waragainstsleep  (op)
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Nov 5, 2021, 06:30 AM
 
I'm not talking about Apple servicing its own machines either. They do massively expensive custom service contracts. I had an iMac to repair once that had a 5 year warranty on the Apple system due to such a deal. I've also seen six figure quotes for looking after Xserves back in the day with short notice onsite cover from actual Apple engineers. There was a big publishing company in town when I worked for a reseller, who were so big they essentially had their own reseller status and got new models sooner than we did. The service is there, its just so specialist they don't really make it apparent to people who aren't buying hundreds of machines routinely. I'm sure they mention it to anyone who does.

I think an M1X based rack mount server with minuscule power consumption will be a huge draw for anyone running data centres. Apple will undoubtedly be offering their elite service plans to such customers if they go this route.
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Nov 7, 2021, 07:09 AM
 
The market for over-the-counter servers is almost dead, because so much has moved to the cloud.

Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
A server needs a socketed CPU. Otherwise you can't upgrade it down the road. Likewise, it needs standard storage interfaces. Will apple provide machines with socketed M1s? Will they document the socket and either license out the M1 designs, or commit to future CPU sales that are pin-compatible with that socket? Will they provide hardware with numerous industry-standard drive interfaces?
Apple has designed their way away from those interfaces. LPDDR means RAM is soldered, and at the clocks they’re running, even a socket is probably not feasible. “Standard storage interfaces” is what, PCIe? I don’t think Apple has even a PCIe root hub, do they? Of course they can do SATA.

No if Apple wants to offer anything like this, it is as a service in the cloud, either on their own or in cooperation with one of the big cloud providers.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Nov 8, 2021, 02:24 AM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
The market for over-the-counter servers is almost dead, because so much has moved to the cloud.
I think the market is getting smaller, because stuff like mail servers are put in the cloud rather than on-prem. But there are plenty of use cases you need local or private servers for. There are plenty of use cases where you’d simply be limited by the available bandwidth or latency to the internet, for example.
Originally Posted by P View Post
Apple has designed their way away from those interfaces. LPDDR means RAM is soldered, and at the clocks they’re running, even a socket is probably not feasible. “Standard storage interfaces” is what, PCIe? I don’t think Apple has even a PCIe root hub, do they? Of course they can do SATA.
Thunderbolt is a wrapper around PCIe, so doesn’t that mean Apple already has integrated PCIe logic in its latest chips? Assuming that the new MacBooks Pro feature 3 independent Thunderbolt 4 ports (and aren’t multiplexed like some of the ports on the previous generation of MacBooks Pro), that’d be 96–120 GBit/s in bandwidth (32–40 GBit/s per port).

They have had machines with Thunderbolt ports for at least 8 years now (the 2013 Mac Pro had Thunderbolt ports), i. e. lots of experience with PCIe, albeit in one particular application. At least in that respect they have a good track record. Whether or not they will offer PCIe expansion slots in a server sold to customers is another question. But I think they have the technical chops to bring one to market.
Originally Posted by P View Post
No if Apple wants to offer anything like this, it is as a service in the cloud, either on their own or in cooperation with one of the big cloud providers.
I don’t think it is necessarily either-or, and is a plausible scenario, too. Besides, Apple does offer some limited cloud services already.

Of course, I am very skeptical that this will happen, because the crux is the software, not the hardware. I doubt Apple is interested in investing the energy to fill this gap. (Apple doesn’t seem to think it is necessary to make a good photo app and a pro version of that, even though they are proud to make the most popular cameras in the world.)

Even if we ignore Apple selling server hardware, I am genuinely at a loss why in 2021 Apple is still heavily relying on Amazon S3 for storage and Microsoft’s cloud offerings for many of their core services. If they were to replace that, I think it’d make a lot of sense to deploy custom hardware.
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Waragainstsleep  (op)
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Nov 8, 2021, 11:16 AM
 
Apple tends not to bother building anything unless they think they can substantially improve on what currently exists. Beating Photoshop is a tall order (especially without infringing too many of the patents Adobe likely has), bettering Amazon's and Microsoft's economies of scale, robustness and service levels for cloud services is also a whole lot of work and investment.
Their new silicon gives them the platform from which to disrupt the data centre industry (by competing directly or selling kit to the existing players) but you're right that they remain almost at square one when it comes to the software needed to finish the puzzle. Maybe they'll build some kind of kick-ass hypervisor system so customers can run whatever they want on Apple Silicon servers or maybe they'll look at signing other people's OS' directly for those devices. Or they could license and tweak some existing Linux-based server OS. All these would be quicker and easier than building a bullet-proof server offering from scratch.
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OreoCookie
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Nov 8, 2021, 07:57 PM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Apple tends not to bother building anything unless they think they can substantially improve on what currently exists. Beating Photoshop is a tall order (especially without infringing too many of the patents Adobe likely has), […]
I wasn’t referring to Photoshop, but Photos and Lightroom. Apple has two tiers of software, good non-pro and pro-level software for audio (Garageband and Logic), video editing (iMovie and Final Cut Pro X). I find it supremely weird that Apple hasn’t put more effort into the equivalent for photos and images. Even Apple’s non-pro photo software, Photos, is abysmal in comparison. Yes, it syncs and you can extend the editor. But sorting and culling is a nightmare. Most people use it simply to view their photos. What’s maddening is that Apple did have a very competitive solution at one point, Aperture. There are a few competitors of Lightroom, but most of them punt on the sorting and culling functionality. Luminar focusses on ever more “AI-powered” editing functionality, but neglects management.
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
[…] bettering Amazon's and Microsoft's economies of scale, robustness and service levels for cloud services is also a whole lot of work and investment.
At this stage, IMHO this is table stakes. Apple has expanded its cloud offerings over time in significant ways and this is what you should do. Even much, much smaller cloud hosting companies design their own hardware. Backblaze designed their own storage pods from the very beginning (they are an awesome company, they have open sourced the design and you can build your own storage pod with 45 or 60 hard drives in it). I saw a video about a small German hoster (their data center has “only” about 100,000 servers in it) and they have been designing their own (x86) servers for years, which are based off custom motherboards and do not use custom racks. Despite that, they are able to give their customers a wide array of options when it comes to configurations. People treat custom hardware as if it is black magic. But at Apple’s scale and with Apple’s resources, this shouldn’t be hard.
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Their new silicon gives them the platform from which to disrupt the data centre industry (by competing directly or selling kit to the existing players) but you're right that they remain almost at square one when it comes to the software needed to finish the puzzle.
The advantages of more efficient, custom hardware, specifically ARM chips, is so obvious in this context. Amazon went into the chip business because of that. Yes, their design is based on standard building blocks by ARM, but if Amazon can get into the chip business, Apple can much more easily get into the server business. Just like Amazon et al., the advantage is that Apple knows its workloads exactly and could even deploy different chips for different purposes. I reckon for some workloads a larger number of small cores with a fast memory interface could fare better than fewer big cores. They could adapt the amount of RAM and e. g. custom accelerators to the workload.
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Maybe they'll build some kind of kick-ass hypervisor system so customers can run whatever they want on Apple Silicon servers or maybe they'll look at signing other people's OS' directly for those devices. Or they could license and tweak some existing Linux-based server OS. All these would be quicker and easier than building a bullet-proof server offering from scratch.
They don’t have to do everything at once. And perhaps for some workloads Linux is the better choice. Linux runs on ARM just fine. This could also make Apple’s investment in Swift and LLVM for Linux worthwhile.
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Nov 9, 2021, 08:00 AM
 
Originally Posted by OreoCookie View Post
I think the market is getting smaller, because stuff like mail servers are put in the cloud rather than on-prem. But there are plenty of use cases you need local or private servers for. There are plenty of use cases where you’d simply be limited by the available bandwidth or latency to the internet, for example.
Sure, but that’s where I see a new mini as the answer.

Thunderbolt is a wrapper around PCIe, so doesn’t that mean Apple already has integrated PCIe logic in its latest chips?
Correct, forgot about that.

Assuming that the new MacBooks Pro feature 3 independent Thunderbolt 4 ports (and aren’t multiplexed like some of the ports on the previous generation of MacBooks Pro), that’d be 96–120 GBit/s in bandwidth (32–40 GBit/s per port).

They have had machines with Thunderbolt ports for at least 8 years now (the 2013 Mac Pro had Thunderbolt ports), i. e. lots of experience with PCIe, albeit in one particular application. At least in that respect they have a good track record. Whether or not they will offer PCIe expansion slots in a server sold to customers is another question. But I think they have the technical chops to bring one to market.
They haven’t really don’t anything with PCIe before. They bought CPUs and TB controllers from Intel and out them on the motherboard. If they now have a PCIe root hub, that is new.

I don’t think it is necessarily either-or, and is a plausible scenario, too. Besides, Apple does offer some limited cloud services already.

Of course, I am very skeptical that this will happen, because the crux is the software, not the hardware. I doubt Apple is interested in investing the energy to fill this gap. (Apple doesn’t seem to think it is necessary to make a good photo app and a pro version of that, even though they are proud to make the most popular cameras in the world.)

Even if we ignore Apple selling server hardware, I am genuinely at a loss why in 2021 Apple is still heavily relying on Amazon S3 for storage and Microsoft’s cloud offerings for many of their core services. If they were to replace that, I think it’d make a lot of sense to deploy custom hardware.
I agree that putting some leftover (or harvested) M1 in servers running MacOS makes a lot more sense than selling servers. We’ll see if anything comes of it.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Nov 9, 2021, 09:48 AM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
Sure, but that’s where I see a new mini as the answer.
I don't think a Mini is suitable for many of the roles one may have in mind: no ECC RAM, no internal storage and limited expandability. I think there is a big gap that should be filled by Apple. There is no first-party solution in bigger Apple-only or Apple-“a-lot” installations for things like centralized user management.
Originally Posted by P View Post
They haven’t really don’t anything with PCIe before. They bought CPUs and TB controllers from Intel and out them on the motherboard. If they now have a PCIe root hub, that is new.
Right. So this is v1 or v2 (in case the controller is different enough from that in the M1 to be considered another controller). Plus, this isn't the first time that they have designed chipsets (although the last time they did was 15 years or so ago). If Apple put their mind to it, I have no doubt they could.

Now reliability with tons of cards is another thing. From what I hear even AMD is behind Intel here.
Originally Posted by P View Post
I agree that putting some leftover (or harvested) M1 in servers running MacOS makes a lot more sense than selling servers. We’ll see if anything comes of it.
Like I wrote above, I don't think Apple will release servers, but I think this is unfortunate and short-sighted. The simplest solution would be to continue selling the next ARM-based Mac Pro as a rackmount. I don't think that'd be ideal, but a very cost effective solution.
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Waragainstsleep  (op)
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Nov 9, 2021, 10:11 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
They haven’t really don’t anything with PCIe before. They bought CPUs and TB controllers from Intel and out them on the motherboard. If they now have a PCIe root hub, that is new.
The M1 didn't have Thunderbolt so presumably didn't have PCI-E. The M1 Pro/Max presumeably do have PCI-E on board. One also presumes that whatever M1 or M2 chip goes into the Mac Pro will need to have PCI-E 5. And plenty of it.

Do we think its possible that Apple could could mount an M1/Pro/Max on a PCI-E card? Maybe as a dedicated/extended GPU?
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Nov 9, 2021, 11:12 PM
 
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
The M1 didn't have Thunderbolt so presumably didn't have PCI-E.
Yes, it did, 2 USB4 ports with Thunderbolt 3 to be precise.
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
The M1 Pro/Max presumeably do have PCI-E on board. One also presumes that whatever M1 or M2 chip goes into the Mac Pro will need to have PCI-E 5. And plenty of it.
The M1 Pro and Max have one more USB4/Thunderbolt 3 port than the M1-powered Macs, although I don't know whether Apple uses a port multiplexer or not.

A server/workstation chip with plenty of PCIe ports requires Apple to dedicate plenty of watts and die area to it, which they will have to do if they want to support e. g. GPU compute cards or audio/video interfaces and the like.
Originally Posted by Waragainstsleep View Post
Do we think its possible that Apple could could mount an M1/Pro/Max on a PCI-E card? Maybe as a dedicated/extended GPU?
I don't think that sounds like a good solution. A better solution in my mind is for Apple to glue together 4 M1 Max derivatives using chiplets like AMD does now. They are connected via a crossbar that houses other IO like the PCIe root complex and perhaps memory controllers. A machine with 4x the CPU power of a M1 Max would have serious graphics power.

And for people who need more, they'd steer them to one of AMD's external cards.

Apple could make its own graphics cards by ditching all of the logic but memory controllres and GPU cores, but that'd likely be an expensive endeavor and you'd lose the advantage of not having to move data across the PCIe if you want to shuttle between CPU and GPU.
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