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Intel researches tech to prepare for a future beyond today's PCs

Agam Shah | Feb. 13, 2017
Intel is investing heavily in quantum computing and neuromorphic chip research as it prepares for the post-Moore's Law era

The chipmaker has lived off the PC industry for decades but is now looking to grow in markets like data centers, the internet of things, automotive and high-performance computing. The new focus is bringing a gradual change to the way Intel makes chips. It's similar to the 1970s, when different types of chips like vector processors and floating point arrays were crammed together for complex calculations.

For example, Intel is slapping together two separate functional blocks for applications like machine learning and autonomous cars. Intel envisions FPGAs combining with CPUs in autonomous cars. Later this year, the company will release a chip called Lake Crest, which combines a Xeon server CPU with deep-learning chip technology it picked up through its Nervana Systems acquisition. Intel is also merging an FPGA inside an Intel Xeon chip to carry out machine learning tasks.

Intel is expecting a lot of data to be generated by sources like autonomous cars, which will need edge processing for tasks like image recognition, analysis, and map updates. Intel is pushing its wide roster of co-processors to the edge, and that is where the quantum and neuromorphic chips may fit.

Quantum computer research is also being done by other companies. D-Wave recently released a 2,000-qubit quantum computer based on quantum annealing, while IBM has a 5-bit quantum computer accessible via the cloud. IBM is also playing with brain-like chips and has benchmarked its TrueNorth chip, which has a million neurons and 256 million synapses.

Academic institutions like the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Stanford University, and the University of Manchester in the U.K. are also working on neuromorphic chips. HPE has shown a computer that emulates the human brain, and it intends to adapt ideas from that for servers.

 

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