Nvidia and AMD have been top contenders in the GPU space, with Bitmain and other companies producing ASICs specific to cryptocurrency mining. While these manufacturers have discrete graphics chips, all Intel GPUs are integrated with CPUs as single integrated circuits that handle both functions. Now Intel has confirmed that it will also produce a discrete graphics chip by 2020, as part of a plan put into motion with the addition of Raja Koduri as Chief Architect, senior vice president of a new Core and Visual Computing Group in November 2017.
— Intel News (@intelnews) June 12, 2018
Koduri’s mission is to drive a unified vision across the products shifted to his group. The new products will include high-end discrete graphics solutions. The company has not decided on a specific target customer for the new chips, but in an interview with Marketwatch, Navin Shenoy, Intel’s Executive Vice President confirmed that solutions will include products for data center segments, such as AI and machine learning, as well as consumer segments, such as gaming and professional development.
Prior to his role at Intel, Koduri was the former head of graphics at Radeon. This resulted in investors and others who follow Intel to speculate that the company would present a significant challenge to Nvidia and AMD’s popularity in the market. This appears to be the case with the latest announcement, and Koduri is on a tight timeline with the goal of releasing a product by 2020. His team is building the first discrete graphics chip from scratch. To put the timeline into perspective, typical development cycles for the development of new graphics processors are about three years, according to Jensen Huang of Nvidia. Huang stated that Intel’s development of GPUs is “the most significant undertaking… in the world today.”
The broader AI and machine-learning strategy for Intel will include these new GPUs, as well as new Xeon processors, FPGAs and custom AI chips similar to the Nervana-based NNP. The Nervana Neural Network Processor (NNP) is designed with data-centers in mind, as well as other enterprise customers who want to increase performance while decreasing power consumption.
While Intel is relatively new to this space, Nvidia has been producing graphics chips consistently, while adding new features and systems to accelerate AI. Nvidia already has a software and hardware ecosystem surrounding its chips. By contrast, Intel will need to develop these systems from the ground up to support their new chips. All of this must be done in under two years, while keeping pace with AMD and Nvidia’s product upgrades.
Forest Norrod, Senior Vice President of AMD’s Data Center Group has stated that he doesn’t expect Koduri to “have any impact at Intel for at least another three years.” If he is right, then Intel is far from producing their first discrete graphics product. However, if Norrod is wrong, then Intel will be a serious contender very soon.
What this means for cryptocurrency mining will depend on a number of factors. First, we can expect that new scripts will be written to take advantage of the Intel chips for a number of cryptocurrencies that continue to use a proof-of-work mining model. Second, if Intel’s graphics chips end up being more energy-efficient than their Nvidia and AMD equivalents, then mining will no doubt become more profitable with these chips, and we might expect inventory shortages similar to those we’ve seen for other GPUs as miners scoop them up.
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