Microsoft Steps Up in AI Race with New Custom Chip

JJohn November 15, 2023 6:17 PM

Microsoft has revealed a new custom artificial intelligence chip, potentially rivaling Nvidia's renowned AI graphics processing units. The tech giant also unveiled a general computing chip, both aimed at offering more options for cloud infrastructure.

Unveiling of Maia 100 and Cobalt 100

In a recent move to compete with Nvidia and Intel, Microsoft announced the launch of two new chips at their Ignite conference in Seattle. The first, the Maia 100, is an artificial intelligence chip, designed to take on Nvidia's coveted AI graphics processing units. The second, the Cobalt 100 Arm chip, is designed for general computing tasks and could give Intel a run for its money. With these two chips, Microsoft is providing more options to their cloud infrastructure clients, potentially reshaping the competitive landscape.

Cobalt chip hitting market in 2024

Microsoft's Cobalt chips are set to hit the market in 2024, providing virtual-machine instances via Microsoft's Azure cloud. This move signifies Microsoft's steadfast commitment to continue offering innovative cloud solutions. The timeline for the commercial release of the Maia 100, however, wasn't provided, keeping the industry in suspense.

The development of the Maia 100 chip was customer-centric, based on valuable feedback from Microsoft's clients. The company is testing this AI chip's performance with its Bing search engine's AI chatbot, the GitHub Copilot coding assistant, and GPT-3.5-Turbo. This customer-focused approach and the ongoing performance tests highlight Microsoft's commitment to delivering high-quality, user-friendly AI solutions.

In a bid to optimize data center space and effectively manage heat dissipation, Microsoft has designed custom liquid-cooled hardware called Sidekicks, designed to fit comfortably in the server racks next to Maia servers. This highlights Microsoft's focus on not just the performance of their AI chips, but also on the practical aspects of their deployment in data centers.

Promising performance tests on Cobalt

Microsoft has been testing its Teams app and Azure SQL Database service on the new Cobalt chip. The results so far have been promising, with a performance boost of 40% compared to Azure's current Arm-based chips from Ampere. This further emphasizes the potential of Cobalt in revolutionizing Microsoft's suite of applications and services.

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