Intel’s FPGAs Target Datacenters, Networking

By George Leopold

October 6, 2016

Targeting cloud computing, datacenters, network infrastructure and Internet of Things sensors, chipmaker Intel Corp. said it is sampling the latest version of its field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).

Intel said this week its Stratix 10 FPGAs are the first chips based on its 14-nanometer tri-gate process technology used to implement its HyperFlex architecture. That framework is geared toward advanced computing and data-intensive applications in datacenters. The additional focus on radar and imaging systems underscores the chipmaker’s drive to support connected IoT devices.

The chipmaker is positioning the Stratix 10 as enabling cloud service providers and datacenter operators to boost computing and storage as they hustle to keep up with the computational demands of storage and processing big data. Along with increased power efficiency (as much as 70 percent lower, the company claimed), the new FPGA is said to reduce latency as computing is moved closer to data.

Among the performance improvements claimed by Intel is a two-fold increase in core performance along with five-fold increase in chip density compared to the previous generation. The Stratix 10 also delivers up to 10 teraflops of single-precision floating-point performance and up to 10-terabits/second of memory bandwidth.

Interestingly, the new FPGA embeds a quad-core 64-bit Cortex A53 processor from chip intellectual property vendor ARM Ltd., which was acquired by Japanese technology conglomerate SoftBank Group in July. SoftBank said it was targeting IoT applications with the ARM acquisition.

Along with “performance-per-watt” efficiencies in datacenters, Intel is positioning its latest FPGA as a “multifunction accelerator” for widening and accelerating network bandwidth. “The need for more bandwidth and lower latency in our networks, the need for flexibility of our datacenters to react to new and changing workloads, and the need to manage performance per watt are all key value drivers” for the new FPGA, Dan McNamara, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group, noted in a statement.

McNamara said the chipmaker is currently sampling the Stratix 10 with unnamed customers.

Intel zeroed in on the FPGA market with its 2015 acquisition of market leader Altera Corp. Along with combining Altera’s FPGAs with Intel Xeon processors, the deal was designed to leverage the Intel’s advanced process technology and Altera’s design prowess. The result is a system-on-chip that incorporates Intel’s multi-die technology used to integrate a monolithic FPGA fabric into a single package that supports multiple networking protocols.

The decision to use the ARM processor in the Altera system-on-chip was driven by the need for “application-class processing that’s very power efficient and very high performance,” according to Patrick Dorsey, the Altera unit’s senior director of product marketing. The ARM processor “allows us to extend the virtualization capability of the [system-on-chip] from the processor into the hardware fabric of the FPGA itself.”

In the datacenter, Intel is touting its next-generation FPGA as an accelerator as well as a connectivity and storage controller. The major selling point is that FPGAs can perform standard datacenter functions using about one-tenth the power.

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