Intel is integrating its Xeon processor with an FPGA in a single-package that will be socket-compatible with previous Xeon E5 processors. The company made the announcement via an article on its website written by Diane Bryant, who heads up Intel's data center division.
Xeon is the brand Intel uses to denote x86 architecture processors intended for use in servers and embedded applications.
Bryant said that the inclusion of an FPGA alongside the processor would allow hardware acceleration of critical data center algorithms as well as providing "down-the-wire reprogrammability." The latter means that hardware acceleration algorithms can be changed as compute demands fluctuate, Bryant said.
"Based on industry benchmarks FPGA-based accelerators can deliver more than 10X performance gains. By integrating the FPGA with the Xeon processor, we estimate that customers will see an additional 2X in performance thanks to the low latency, coherent interface," Bryant wrote in the article.
Intel did not disclose which FPGA vendor it was working with but some circumstantial evidence points to Achronix Semiconductor Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.). Intel has been acting as foundry for Achronix making FPGAs on the 22nm FinFET process. Achronix' 22i Speedster FPGAs come with a variety of hardwired high-speed data communications interfaces at the periphery of the programmable logic. These include 10/40/100G Ethernet MACs, 100Gbit Interlaken channels, PCI Express and DDR3 memory channels. Nor has Intel said whether it would be commissioning custom FPGAs to sit alongside its processors.
At the time that the relationship between Intel and Achronix started the then Intel CEO Paul Otellini said that one reason Intel was acting as a foundry was to check out what technologies might be relevant to Intel in the future and he specificially mentioned fast processor variation.
If Intel includes Achronix FPGA die within a Xeon processor package it could make monolithic integration easier in the future. It is also notable that Achronix founder and chairman John Lofton Holt announced in 2012 that Achronix was prepared to license out its FPGA fabric as intellectual property.
However, Altera and Xilinx are much larger FPGA suppliers and have been building experience working with server vendors.Intel provides foundry services to Altera, Achronix and Tabula, which provides a time-sliced FPGA architecture.
Intel's Bryant said adding hardware programmability matched the direction Intel had already been moving in withs high-end processors. She said that Intel's data center division delivered 15 custom products in 2013 to customers including Ebay and Facebook and planned to deliver twice that number of custom products in 2014.
"Our new Xeon plus FPGA solution provides yet another customized option, one more tool for customers to use to improve their critical data center metric of Performance/TCO," Bryant said.
Achronix did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article was published.
Related links and articles: