Latest FPGAs deliver significant leap forward in performance and power efficiency

24-02-2015 | Altera | Design Applications

Altera has announced that Microsoft is using Altera Arria 10 FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays), to achieve compelling performance-per-Watt in data centre acceleration based on CNN (convolutional neural network) algorithms. These algorithms are frequently used for image classification, image recognition, and natural language processing.

Microsoft researchers are working on advancing cloud technologies and are using the Arria 10 Developer Kit and engineering samples of Arria 10 FPGAs, which are demonstrating up to 40 GFLOPS-per-Watt, an industry-leading level in data centre performance. Also, when compared with GPGPUs, this FPGA performance offers a more than 3X performance-to-power advantage for CNN platforms. This performance is achieved using the open software development language known as OpenCL, or VHDL to code the Arria 10 FPGA and its IEEE754 hard floating point DSP (digital signal processing) blocks, says the company.

“We are seeing a significant leap forward in CNN performance and power efficiency with Arria 10 engineering samples and the silicon’s precision hard floating point in the DSP blocks is part of the reason we are seeing compelling results in our research,” said Doug Burger, director, Client and Cloud Apps, Microsoft Research. In a Microsoft blog post, Burger describes some of the challenges facing the data centre at an infrastructure level and how by replacing traditional CPUs with reprogrammable FPGAs, Microsoft is addressing these challenges.

“The FPGA has an architectural advantage for neural algorithms with the ability to convolve and do pooling very efficiently with a flexible data path which enables many OpenCL kernels to pass data directly to each other without having to go to external memory,” said Michael Strickland, director of the Compute and Storage Business Unit, Altera. “Arria 10 has an additional architectural advantage of supporting hard floating point for both multiplication and addition – this hard floating point enables more logic and a faster clock speed than traditional FPGA products.”

Altera previously announced that Microsoft is using its Stratix V FPGAs to accelerate search on its innovative Catapult board being deployed in servers in the first Bing data centre this year.

FPGA 2015 ACM/SIGDA, Monterey, California, February 23.
Linley Group Data Center Conference, San Jose, California, February 25.

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