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Habana Wins Cigar for AI Inference

February 19, 2019

Author: Linley Gwennap

Startup Habana Labs is in production with its first AI accelerator card, and it’s not taking baby steps. Targeting data centers, the Goya accelerator offers roughly 4x the performance of Nvidia’s Tesla T4 on the popular ResNet-50 model. It targets AI inference, but the company is also developing an accelerator for training. Goya is well suited to small batch sizes and offers one-third the latency of the T4. It even delivers about 3x better power efficiency than Nvidia. The Habana card plugs into standard servers via PCI Express and runs neural networks developed in TensorFlow, MXNet, and other popular frameworks.

To deliver this performance, the company developed the HL-1000 ASIC, which implements a custom architecture. The secretive startup withheld most details of this 16nm chip other than a high-level block diagram. We believe the mysterious architecture is similar to that of Google’s TPU, implementing a large matrix-multiply accelerator and a large on-chip SRAM. One difference is that Google implements nonconvolutional layers in fixed-function logic, whereas Habana includes eight CPU cores that can be programmed to handle these layers. Google’s approach delivers much better power efficiency than GPUs, so it could enable Habana’s advantages as well.

Habana is located in Israel, not Cuba. Its founders have a strong record, with ties to Annapurna, which Amazon acquired in 2015; to Ceva, a leader in DSP intellectual property (IP); to 3D-sensor developer PrimeSense, which Apple acquired in 2013; and to Galileo, which Marvell acquired in 2000. Founded in early 2016, Habana has quickly delivered its first product. It recently raised $75 million from Intel Capital and other investors including well-known firms Bessemer and Battery Ventures, bringing its total funding to $120 million. This capital has helped the company increase its staff to more than 130 employees.

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