Intel Pivots FPGAs to Cryptocurrency with New Agilex M Series

Intel Pivots FPGAs to Cryptocurrency with New Agilex M Series

Intel announcement its new Agilex M-Series FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) products, and at the same time gave a very interesting positioning towards cryptocurrency mining. Intel claims several “world firsts” with the Agilex M series, including the use of the Intel 7 (formerly Intel 10nm) manufacturing process, support for up to 32 GB of HBM2e DRAM (via twin memory stacks ) and a 60% performance increase over previous-generation Stratix FPGAs. However, Intel has made no statement about cryptocurrency mining performance.

Designed by Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group (PSG), which incorporated design talent and intellectual property from Intel’s $16.7 billion acquisition of Altera in 2015, the new Agilex M-series promises to offer the highest memory bandwidth in the industry. That’s thanks to a pair of up to 32GB configurable HBM2e stacks, which deliver up to 820GB/s of memory bandwidth (410GB/s per stack). This could be particularly useful for Dagger Hashimoto / Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) workloads frequently associated with cryptocurrency mining, e.g. Ethereum.

Additionally, Intel claims that its new Agilex M-Series are the first FPGAs to support cache and memory coherency with Intel’s Xeon processors through the Compute Express Link interconnect standard. Agilex-M FPGAs are also the only solutions in the world capable of working with three types of memory: HBM2e, DDR5 and Intel Optane – although to be fair, Intel has blocked other vendors from Optane implementations in the past.

The new Agilex M-Series FPGAs offer the industry’s highest memory bandwidth for an FPGA, thanks to the inclusion of HBM2e memory and an external DDR5/LPDDR5 memory bank, all controlled via ruggedized memory controllers from Agilex M. Intel also claims the industry’s highest digital signal processing (DSP) computing capabilities in an HBM-compatible FPGA, but note that Intel does not claim the highest computing density in non-HBM FPGAs. HBM compatible.

The same goes for Intel’s efficiency claims. The company claims that its Agilex M products deliver more than twice the performance of fabric per watt compared to competing 7nm FPGAs (read, Versal from Xilinx). The devil, as always, is in the details: Intel isn’t claiming twice the performance per watt of its competitors’ offerings, only Fabric efficiency, likely boosted by the company’s use of its EMIB technology.

It’s the first time an Intel FPGA product has been released for cryptocurrency-related workloads, and it’s the second Intel product in a month looking to enter the blockchain space, after Bonanza Mine ASIC (Application-Specific Integrated Circuit) from Intel has been made public. . Intel appears to be taking a broader strategy when it comes to blockchain workloads, and the company will offer at least three distinct product segments that serve this space. While the Bonanza Mine ASIC and its later iterations are a no-brainer, the new Agilex M-series FPGAs are also joined by Intel’s upcoming Arc Alchemist, which the company has pointed out will deliver full performance under heavy loads. of cryptocurrency mining.

The fact that Intel is marketing FPGAs for mining workloads doesn’t take away from the more conventional use cases for these chips, which include compute, cloud-to-edge infrastructure, ubiquitous connectivity, and AI. . FPGAs are particularly sought after due to their high flexibility, which allows companies to rapidly iterate on semiconductor designs on the same piece of silicon, instead of spending resources on multiple tape-outs of different approaches, solutions and stages of the design of a given chip.

Interestingly, Intel is expanding the appeal of its FGPAs to markets where they weren’t before. This comes against the backdrop of the seemingly declining competitiveness of its Altera-based products against those made by Xilinx, which was recently acquired by AMD, turning it into a bigger company (by market capitalization) than even Intel.

Xilinx alone delivered an extremely impressive 2021, raking in $3.15 billion in revenue for a 20% year-over-year increase. Intel’s PSG Group, on the other hand, generated $1.9 billion in revenue, with only a 4% year-over-year increase in revenue, signaling that the market felt Xilinx’s offerings were preferred over solutions. ‘Intel. However, Intel claimed that its PSG Group could have generated $500 million in additional revenue had it not been for the supply constraints felt throughout the semiconductor market – supply constraints which, interestingly, do not were not mentioned in the Xilinx results report.

It remains to be seen whether Intel’s “new” FPGA market, blockchain, will represent anything other than a product-release marketing move, or whether the company’s solutions can actually add value to a market dominated by the ASICs.