The Intel purchase of Altera was a turning point in the company’s history as it fully embraced a compute architecture other than x86. The Intel Stratix 10 FPGA is a child of the Altera acquisition. Although the power of the chips is in its FPGA, the new Intel Stratix 10 chip has a very interesting feature: a quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 processor. With the Intel Stratix 10 we now have Intel selling/ sampling an ARM processor built on a 14nm Intel process. This makes complete sense (for now.)
ARM processors are extremely popular within Intel servers as control processors. ARM is dominant in the market of providing small SoCs that control larger systems. If you have a BMC in your server manufactured in the last decade or so, odds are you have an ARM based SoC in your Intel server already. The quad-core ARM processor is not the reason you buy an Intel Stratix 10 FPGA. Instead, it is the FPGA that provides up to 10TFLOPS of single precision compute for applications like machine learning. Better yet, the company touts 80 GFLOPS / watt.
The Intel FPGAs will be an increasingly important part of next-generation cloud architectures. The Intel acquisition of Altera was largely due to Microsoft’s plans to deploy FPGAs in their Azure cloud servers. An Intel Stratix 10 FPGA also includes some really cool features such as HBM2 on-package. We are really excited to see a potential Xeon + FPGA chip come out of the company as the machine learning folks are clamoring for such an integration. If you look at the sheer size of the Intel Knights Landing LGA3647 it is easy to imagine that Intel could put a FPGA on a similar sized package.
Including ARM cores in the FPGA makes sense. Altera has a history of including ARM cores in their chips. Altera customers are accustomed to running ARM code. While there is a learning curve moving to an ARM architecture from an x86 architecture, compared to utilizing FPGAs it is a relatively minor hurdle.
We are interested to see if the company continues to use ARM cores in future products that are two years out or more.
If you want to learn more about the Intel Stratix 10 this is a good starting place.