FPGAs and Deep Machine Learning

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The concept of machine learning is not new. Attempts at systems emulating intelligent behavior, like expert systems, go as far back as the early 1980’s. And the very notion of modern Artificial Intelligence has a long history. The name itself was coined at a Dartmouth College conference (1956), but the idea of an “electronic brain” was born together with the development of modern computers. AI as an idea accompanies us from the dawn of human history.

Three latest development are pushing forward “Machine Learning”:

  • Powerful distributed processors
  • Cheap and high volume storage
  • High bandwidth interconnection to bring the data to the processors

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TI power solution for Arria 10 GX

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“Field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) are increasingly complex system on chips (SoCs) that include not just programmable logic gates and random access memory (RAM) but also analog-to-digital converters (ADCs); digital-to-analog converters (DACs); and programmable analog features and signal-conditioning circuits that enable high-performance digital computations in servers, network-attached storage (NAS), enterprise switches, oscilloscopes, network analyzers, test equipment and software-defined radios.”

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Linear Power Solutions for FPGAs

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Altera Arria 10 Evaluation board – Source: Linear

Modern FPGA devices are quite complex machines. They include support for several type of I/Os at different voltages (LVCMOS, LVDS, SSTL, etc). Also, the FPGA core usually works at low voltages of around 1.0V, but at quite high currents of several amperes. Additionally, power sequencing requirements must be met.

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Intel announces Xeon processor with FPGA accelerator

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Image source: Altera

Last year (December 2015), Intel completed the acquisition of Altera. As a result of this acquisition, the integration of processor and FPGA on a single chip is finally becoming a reality.

Intel envisions many applications for this combination of processor and FPGA. The FPGA will fulfill accelerator tasks, either by static configuration or dynamic reconfiguration.

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