Intel debuts a deep-learning AI chip to battle Nvidia

In what looks like a repeat of its loss to Qualcomm on smartphones, Intel has lagged graphics chip (GPU) maker Nvidia in the artificial intelligence revolution. Today Intel announced that its first AI chip, the Nervana Neural Network Processor, will roll out of factories by year’s end. Originally called Lake Crest, the chip gets its name from Nervana, a company Intel purchased in August 2016, taking on the CEO, Naveen Rao, as Intel’s AI guru.

Nervana is designed from the ground up for machine learning, Rao tells me. You can’t play Call of Duty with it. Rao claims that ditching the GPU heritage made room for optimizations like super-fast data interconnections allowing a bunch of Nervanas to act together like one giant chip. They also do away with the caches that hold data the processor might need to work on next. “In neural networks…you know ahead of time where the data’s coming from, what operation you’re going to apply to that data, and where the output is going to,” says Rao.

Regardless, Intel is just releasing samples of its AI chips, whereas Nvidia has been shipping out millions of GPUs for years. No matter how good its tech, Intel will have to play a mean game of catch-up.