Intel will release a chip next year that is a Xeon processor combined with a fpga from a 3rd party. The processor is developed specifically for datacenters / servers and will compete with ARM-chips. Intel is working on that chip says Diane Bryant from Intel's datacenter-group. The fpga is coupled with the Xeon processor in such a manner that it can access the CPU tied memory.
“We have been engaging directly with large-scale service providers to give them exactly what they need,” said Bryant.
The chip would combine a Xeon processor and a programmable chip known as an FPGA, or a field-programmable gate array. Instead of just placing the FPGA near the chip, which is the usual way one would place an FPGA or other accelerator chip, the two would be linked and able to share access to the memory available to the CPU. This coherency is essential for making the processors faster and avoiding bottlenecks associated with using other accelerators such as graphics processors or even an FPGA that isn’t coherently linked.
The primary companies making FPGAs are Xilinx, Altera and Latice Semiconductor, but Bryant didn’t say what firm it was working with for the FPGA, only that Intel wasn’t designing those itself. However Intel will test and manufacture the entire chip for customers.
The benefit of using FPGAs, which tend to be costly, is that they are able to be programmed to run a specific set of algorithms at peak efficiency and can later be re-programmed as the algorithms or work changes. As noted in Monday’s post about Microsoft’s efforts, the greater efficiency and agility is something many webscale clients have been willing to pay for, even looking to other alternative processor architectures in order to gain it.
So in many ways, Intel’s decision to bring on an FPGA is a signal that the x86 architecture needed some goosing, especially as other alternative architectures start gaining interest from the Facebooks and Googles of the world that are Intel’s top clients. As alternatives go, the ARM architecture, which is the underlying architecture in the brains of most cell phones, has been seen as the one most likely to give Intel a run for its money.
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