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Kneron KL720 Boosts Efficiency

October 13, 2020

Author: Aakash Jani

Despite having rolled out its debut product earlier this year, Kneron has already created a much more powerful version. The new KL720 increases peak performance by 4.3x while increasing power efficiency by 80%. A shift from 40nm to 28nm provides much of the efficiency gains. Kneron added the Cadence Vision P6 DSP to offload floating-point MAC operations from the CPU and thereby decreasing the CPU’s overhead. The DSP can also be programmed for new or custom activation functions. The KL720’s peak performance is 1.5 trillion operations per second (TOPS)—primarily from its custom deep-learning accelerator (DLA)—while using 1.2W.

At 0.35 TOPS, the older KL520 targets smart cameras and other image-processing devices. The KL720 can upgrade those same devices, but its greater performance also enables new applications such as natural-language processing. The edge market is ill defined, but for the KL720’s power envelope, competitors include BrainChip’s Akida, Google’s Coral, and Intel’s Myriad X. Kneron’s new chip is already in production.

The 520 has two Cortex-M4s: one for DLA control and the other to run a real-time operating system and user code . The new design uses a single CPU handle both tasks while coordinating the workloads between the DSP and DLA. The DSP operates at 500MHz and offloads FP16- and FP32-related AI calculations from the DLA. The Cortex-M4 received a substantial operating-frequency bump to 400MHz, twice the speed of the previous Kneron chip. The DLA architecture remains constant, but the peak frequency rose by 30% to 700MHz. The SoC additionally updates the USB interface to version 3.0, providing a 10x data-transfer speedup.

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