Intel has announced that a more typical GPU-based accelerator card for server use will be available later this year, rounding off the company’s direct GPU-related announcements from this morning as part of the company’s annual investor meeting. The upcoming accelerator, dubbed Arctic Sound-M, is aimed specifically at the media encoding and analytics sector, with Intel, intending to take full advantage of what is expected to be the first server accelerator with hardware AV1 video encoding. In the middle of this, Arctic Sound-M is slated to launch.
Arctic Sound-debut M’s comes after a tumultuous and ultimately derailed set of plans for Intel’s first GPU server technology. The Xe-HP series of GPUs were initially commissioned by the firm to anchor the traditional server market, but it was terminated in November of last year. Intel did not abandon the server industry, except for the unique Ponte Vecchio design for the HPC market, they reduced the amount of dedicated server silicon they used.
Instead of the original products, which were codenamed Arctic Sound, Intel is bringing Arctic Sound-M to market. Intel is not providing many technical details for their upcoming server accelerator due to the investor-focused nature of today’s presentation, but we can infer from their teaser videos that this is an Alchemist (Xe-HPC part), as we can see the larger Alchemist die mounted on a single-slot card in Intel’s teaser video. This is in line with the Xe-HP cancellation announcement, as Raja Koduri, Intel’s GPU spokesman, said at the time that we’d see Xe-HPG-based server solutions instead.
Arctic Sound-M, on the other hand, is being marketed as a “media and analytics supercomputer” by Intel as a server accelerator card for the media business. As a result, Intel is putting a lot of focus on the card’s media processing capabilities, both in terms of total throughput and supported codecs. Arctic Sound-M, in particular, is expected to be the first accelerator card to support hardware AV1 encoding, giving Intel an advantage with bandwidth-conscious clients who are ready to employ the next-generation video codec.
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This means that hardware AV1 encoding is a native feature of (at least) the big Alchemist die, which is interesting. Given the potential importance of the first hardware AV1 encoder, it’s unclear whether Intel will make it available on consumer Arc cards or keep it reserved for their server cards.
Meanwhile, Intel claims 150 TOPS for INT8 in terms of computational performance for media analytics/AI inference. In terms of competitive hardware, there aren’t many great comparisons, but the closest in terms of card size and use cases would be NVIDIA’s A2 accelerator, where the Arctic Sound-M would give about 4x the inference performance on paper. For a new product like Intel’s GPUs, the proof is in the pudding, but if they can deliver on these performance estimates, Arctic Sound-M will be able to safely occupy a very narrow niche in the greater server accelerator business.
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