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Conference focuses on AI chips

August 31, 2018

rick.merritt-August 31, 2018

CUPERTINO, Calif. — This year’s Hot Chips hosted 25 talks, 16 of them focused at least in part on chips handling artificial intelligence jobs. They spanned a broad range from ultra-low-power devices for the Internet of Things and smartphones to power-hungry slabs of silicon for the data center.

Industry consolidation around the x86 made this microprocessor event less interesting for a few years. But with the rise of machine learning, it’s become a hot spot again for engineers who specialize in chip architectures.

Believe it or not, there’s more to the chip world these days than deep learning. One speaker described a contender to replace DRAM and called for more talks on memories at the event given the work in alternative RAMs bubbling under the surface.

For its part, Xilinx showed a major new variant of the FPGA, geared for AI and more. And attendees heard a call to action to design a whole new computing architecture grouded in security.

Keynoter John Hennessey, chairman of Alphabet, noted that the widely used technique of speculative execution had been vulnerable to side-channel attacks for 20 years before computer architects at Google saw the open door.

“It makes you wonder what else we haven’t noticed … its amazing given the complexity of these products that they work so well or work at all,” said Nathan Brookwood, analyst at Insight64 and a veteran Hot Chips attendee.

In the following pages, we highlight an array of interesting talks that we did not write about in the immediate aftermath of the event. We start with a handful of them that impressed us as most bold in their ambitions and/or creative in their thinking.

Startup Tachyum was, no doubt, the boldest of all, but informal conversations named it the least likely to succeed. It aims to win sockets as a mainstream server processor and an AI accelerator with its Prodigy chip whose cores it claims are “faster than a Xeon and smaller than an Arm.”

The 7-nm 290-mm2 chip with up to 64 cores will tape out next year, delivering up to 2 TFlops at 4 GHz, claims the company. Initially, it will depend on a combination of server software that the company ported and an emulator to run other code.

Data center operators are not likely to add a startup’s chip and software to their x86 racks without major performance boosts and lots of testing. Analyst Brookwood expressed skepticism about the startup’s use of VLIW, a technique that Intel failed to master with Itanium. If the chip gains any traction, Tachyum is likely to face patent suits from giants such as Intel, he added.

 

Tachyum's Prodigy sports nine-stage integer and 14-stage floating-point pipelines. (All images: Hot Chips)
Tachyum’s Prodigy sports nine-stage integer and 14-stage floating-point pipelines. (All images: Hot Chips)
 
 
 

>> Continue reading the next page of this article on our sister site, EE Times: "13 hot chips from summer 2018."

 

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