By Don Clark
SAN FRANCISCO -- Intel Corp. to intensify its efforts in a hot new computing market, is taking the unusual step of relying on technology developed by a startup it acquired.
The chip maker, determined to counter rival Nvidia Corp.'s lead in the field known as deep learning, said it would begin shipping chips in 2017 that it acquired through its purchase earlier this year of startup Nervana Systems. Intel said it plans to integrate Nervana chips and software with its general-purpose Xeon microprocessors, which are used in most corporate data centers.
Deep learning is a fast-growing branch of the broader field called artificial intelligence, which refers to systems that train themselves by analyzing large sets of data rather than being programmed in conventional ways. Companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are widely using deep-learning techniques to improve computers' ability to identify speech and objects in images, among other tasks.
Many companies now carry out those chores using a combination of Intel Xeon chips and Nvidia chips called GPUs, for graphics processing units. Intel, though it didn't mention Nvidia by name, said it expects the Nervana technology will allow it to train deep-learning systems 100 times faster than with a GPU.
"The GPU architecture does not have a unique advantage for AI," said Brian Krzanich, Intel's chief executive, at a San Francisco gathering focused on the technology. "It's not the only solution that is out there."
Intel and others are placing multiple technology bets in the field. Besides GPUs, companies such as Microsoft are also using chips known as field programmable gate arrays, or FPGAs, for deep-learning applications. Intel jumped on that trend by buying Altera Corp., the biggest FPGA maker, in its biggest-ever transaction.
In addition to Nervana, Intel in September cut a deal to buy Movidius Ltd., another startup that specializes in vision-related applications of deep learning.
Intel is looking to diversify from its longtime stronghold in chips for personal computers, a market that has been slowing lately. Mr. Krzanich has been pushing the company into new fields, including wearable technology, drones and other connected devices known by the phrase the Internet of Things, or IoT.
He predicted deep learning will become much more widely used -- not just in data centers, but to sift through the information generated by connected devices. "Without someform of artificial intelligence," such devices will only generate noise, Mr. Krzanich said.
Intel also announced a relationship with Google to collaborate on software and other technology for the search firm's cloud service.
Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, termed Intel's announcements impressive but noted that rivals such as Nvidia will have their own countermoves. "It's now up to Intel to flawlessly execute," he said.
Write to Don Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 17, 2016 18:06 ET (23:06 GMT)
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