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Imagination Adds Neural-Network IP

October 10, 2017

Author: Loyd Case

Imagination has joined the growing field of vendors that supply deep-learning accelerators (DLAs) by offering its PowerVR 2NX. The new intellectual property (IP) core provides a scalable architecture that emphasizes integer performance and targets inferencing in mobile and other power-constrained devices. The company plans to deliver production RTL by 4Q17.

The growing interest in deep learning has companies scrambling to develop new architectures for efficient neural-network processing. This market bifurcates into training and inferencing. Whereas training occurs in data centers using power-hungry high-performance GPUs, inferencing is moving to client devices such as automobiles and smartphones. For example, Apple and Huawei now offer neural engines in their newest high-end processors.

Although GPUs are popular for training, most DLAs are based on DSP architectures. Despite Imagination’s GPU roots, its Vision and AI group developed the PowerVR 2NX; the new design is entirely independent of the company’s existing DSP and GPU architectures.

Imagination designed the PowerVR 2NX around a scalable, flexible architecture, much like its GPUs. A single core can have one to eight neural-network compute units, each capable of performing 256x8-bit MACs or 128x16-bit MACs in a single cycle. In addition, the DLA IP differentiates from the competition by offering flexible support for variable-width data. The architecture can pack multiple small data items into a single 16-bit word.

Imagination has been struggling since it announced earlier this year that Apple would be dropping PowerVR for an internal GPU design. It recently sold its MIPS division to Tallwood Venture Capital for $65 million and agreed to sell the rest of the company to Canyon Bridge Venture Capital, which is backed by the Chinese government, for $743 million. These deals should mitigate customer worries about the stability of Imagination and PowerVR.

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