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Monday, June 25, 2018

Cambricon launches a processor specifically designed for artificial intelligence


Huawei worked with Cambricon to develop the acceleration part for artificial intelligence for its latest phone processors, the Kirin 970 (used especially for the Huawei P20). This part bears the sweet name of Cambricon-1A and, since its announcement last year, few details were available. Cambricon has since decided to continue the race alone, with a separate processor planned for artificial intelligence. According to the current statements, this processor would be based on the Kirin 970's Cambricon-1A core, but on a much larger scale.

The MLU-100 can consume eighty watts of power to perform sixty-four teraflops in half-precision (sixteen bits) or one hundred and twenty-eight teraflops on eight-bit integers. These number formats are relatively inaccurate, but are very often used for the implementation of the most efficient neural networks. The processor operates normally at 1 GHz, but can go up to 1.3 GHz: it can then develop a computing power of more than eighty teraflops (FP16) or one hundred and sixty-six teraflops (INT8), with a consumption of one hundred ten watts (much less energy efficient).
These features are reminiscent of Google's TPUs, which target the same market, but with more exotic number formats. The big difference is that it will be possible to buy processors from Cambricon (especially in the form of a PCIe expansion card), while Google only allows itself to rent power ...
Compared to NVIDIA graphics cards, including the latest generation Volta, there is a slightly higher computing power, but with a much higher power consumption - and a very different programmability. Also, when NVIDIA and Google use HBM2 memory, Cambricon is limited to DDR4, while many large-scale deep learning applications are more quickly limited by memory bandwidth than by computing power.
It will soon be possible to buy machines with these already installed accelerators, such as ThinkSystem SR650 servers from Lenovo. Others are already collaborating with Cambricon to take advantage of it, such as Sugon or iFlytek - all three Chinese companies, just like Cambricon.

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