Intel finds a new partner for FPGA processors in eASIC

Partnership shows Intel is serious about FPGA computing.

After having its very generous offer to Altera rejected, Intel has found another FPGA partner in eASIC. The two firms announced they plan to develop integrated products with their respective technologies for improved performance and customizable hardware for data centers and the cloud.

The companies claim that the fruits of their labor will be twice as fast as standard field programmable gate array (FPGA) processors and will be aimed specifically at workloads like security and Big Data analytics. They also claim that the products will reduce the time to market for custom application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) by as much as 50 percent.

Normally FPGAs tend to be separate chips from a traditional x86 CPU, but eASIC plans to integrate its chip technology into upcoming Intel Xeon processors. Intel believes this will help it deliver much faster and more flexible systems for cloud customers.

Clearly Intel wants to get into the FPGA business and doesn't want to spend the time and engineering building its own. It originally tried to buy Altera, one of the leaders in that space, but Altera turned down a very generous offer that had investors and analyst blasting the company as crazy for refusing the deal.

FPGAs have a definite appeal for massive parallel processing jobs because they are parallel processing devices that can process an entire algorithm in just one a single clock tick. A CPU does an algorithm sequentially, so it needs multiple clock ticks to executive the algorithm.

Parallel processing is designed for repetitive tasks, like string or image pattern matching. Microsoft Bing and China's Baidu use FPGAs in their respective search engines to speed up searching. Google might, too, but it's highly secretive about these things.

A few months back, a company called Ryft hit the market with a massively parallel processing box called the Ryft One, an all-FPGA solution that it claimed was up to 200 times faster than a Xeon server.

Big Data and real-time analytics require incredible parallel processing power and the data sets continue to grow. Intel's strongest group right now is its data center group because the desktop/laptop market is stalled and its mobile unit is going nowhere.

So I'm not surprised Intel is going into the market, but I am a little surprised at how energetically it is charging into that market. First the generous Altera offer and now the rebound deal with eASIC. Intel must know something we don't know.

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