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### Microsoft Ventures into Custom Silicon Market with New AI Throttle and CPU

Microsoft is making its debut into in-house silicon with two new custom chips, claimed to improve A…

In an effort to enhance the performance of its unique AI capabilities and optimize tasks within its machines and data centers, Microsoft has introduced two innovative custom-designed cards. Unveiled at Microsoft Ignite, these cards signify Microsoft’s commitment to developing its entire site architecture internally.

Microsoft is evaluating the efficacy of its in-house developed cards to empower AI and data center applications with greater control over performance and efficiency.

The trend of leveraging specialized chips to enhance technological performance, embraced by companies like Amazon and Google, is further exemplified by Microsoft’s recent announcement. This move aims to provide valuable insights into the distinctions between custom and commercial silicon chips.

Meet the Azure Cobalt CPU and the Maia AI Accelerator

Microsoft has introduced two cutting-edge custom silicon products: the Maia AI Accelerator and the Azure Cobalt CPU. These offerings are poised to play a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency for cloud-based computing, particularly within Microsoft’s specially crafted Copilot and Azure OpenAI servers.

Through the superior performance of the Maia 100 chip compared to commercial alternatives, Microsoft can optimize its distinct workloads and deliver tailor-made solutions.

Although detailed specifications for the Maia and Cobalt chips are not yet publicly available, it is known that both devices are fabricated using a TSMC 5 nm process. The Maia AI accelerator features an Ethernet-based protocol and boasts over 100 billion transistors.

On the other hand, the Cobalt CPU is a 64-bit, 128-core Arm-based processor designed to handle horizontal control tasks in conjunction with the MaiaGPU. Reports suggest that the Cobalt chip offers a 40% performance boost over current-generation Azure machines, enabling designers to access enhanced performance capabilities.

Pioneering Bespoke Servers

By venturing into customized silicon solutions, Microsoft aligns itself with industry peers such as Amazon and Google, who have transitioned from off-the-shelf chips to tailor-made alternatives to drive performance improvements. The integration of custom silicon, especially in cloud servers running advanced AI models, can significantly elevate overall data center performance.

Microsoft’s adoption of custom silicon represents the final stage in achieving fully bespoke servers. Additionally, Microsoft employs a unique cooling method for the Maia cards, utilizing specialized server racks that accommodate the compute card alongside a dedicated “companion” housing the water cooling mechanism, replacing traditional liquid refrigerants.

The Maia project exemplifies Microsoft’s holistic custom approach, encompassing every element from the computing board to the liquid cooling “sidekick.”

Throughout the development process, Microsoft has collaborated with OpenAI to gather insights on the performance of the Maia and Cobalt chips in handling large-scale language models. By leveraging specialized expertise, Microsoft aims to tailor its solutions to meet customer needs effectively, offering increased flexibility in its product portfolio, despite the potential performance advantages offered by the Maia chips.

Custom Silicon: Shaping the Future

As businesses increasingly embrace custom silicon in their high-performance computing (HPC) and data center solutions, artificial intelligence developers stand to benefit from enhanced computational capabilities. Customized silicon enables organizations to optimize productivity, processing power, and adaptability within their cloud computing environments.

Microsoft’s revelation of ongoing card designs for future iterations underscores the transformative impact of custom silicon, empowering developers to exert precise control over development timelines without reliance on external vendors. The recent introduction of Maia and Cobalt chips marks the beginning of a new era in custom silicon innovation.

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Last modified: February 22, 2024
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