Can Intel AI chips challenge AMD and Nvidia?

  • Intel ushered in the AI PC era with Core Ultra chips tailored for Windows laptops and PCs and introduced new fifth-generation Xeon server processors.
  • Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger also showcased the eagerly anticipated Intel Gaudi 3 AI accelerator.
  • The Gaudi 3 is scheduled for release next year, representing a significant stride in AI innovation.

In the ever-evolving landscape of technology, the AI chips market stands at the forefront of innovation, driving unprecedented advancements across diverse industries. These specialized processors, crucial for accelerating AI computations, play pivotal roles in applications spanning data centers, cloud computing, edge devices, and personal electronics. As the demand for enhanced machine learning capabilities continues to soar, industry giants like Intel, AMD, and Nvidia are engaging in fierce competition to deliver cutting-edge AI chips, surpassing escalating performance expectations.

In the high-stakes race for AI accelerators, AMD, too, has thrown its hat into the ring, gearing up to challenge Nvidia’s dominance. The company, traditionally known for its CPUs and GPUs, only recently unveiled its most advanced GPU for AI, the MI300X, which is capable of performing 1.4 to 1.6 times better than the competition in the inference market. According to AMD’s CEO Lisa Sui, this represents a solid challenge to Nvidia, which currently dominates the market for AI chips with over 80% market share.

With AMD boldly predicting that the market for AI accelerators could soar beyond the US$400 billion mark within the next four years, the tech arena is about to witness a seismic shift as AMD aims to reshape the future of accelerated computing. But as anticipated by market experts, more players, especially tech giants, will be making their own forays into the AI chips market, or will at least up the ante of their current portfolio – mainly to challenge Nvidia’s dominance, mainly on the grounds that nobody but a monopolist enjoys existing in a monopoly. 

At this year’s AI Everywhere event on December 14, Intel joined the likes of AMD by unveiling a constellation of new chips set to redefine the landscape of AI hardware still further.

Intel’s new AI chips

Stepping into the booming AI market with gusto, Intel’s latest offerings include revamped Xeon server chips—marking the second overhaul for those chips in less than a year. The Xeon chips have been redesigned to catapult Intel to the forefront of AI innovation by promising heightened performance and memory capabilities while requiring less electricity. 

The spotlight is also falling on Intel’s Ultra Core chips, which allow laptops and desktops to wield AI prowess directly. Amid its chip lineup, Intel added the Gaudi 3, the newest addition to a lineage that aims to challenge Nvidia’s industry-dominating H100. AI accelerators play a pivotal role in birthing chatbots and delivering many swiftly emerging services. With Gaudi 3 slated for a 2024 release, Intel is boldly asserting its superiority over the H100, setting the stage for an AI showdown.

Intel’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, is betting on the transformative power of AI to breathe new life into the company as it navigates through the shadows of past missteps and a PC market lull. But the playing field has never been more intense. Intel’s arch-nemesis, AMD has deftly seized portions of the PC and server market while Intel has been forced to grapple with the unsettling reality of major clients meking their chips in-house.

Gelsinger predicts AI everywhere with new Intel chips. Source: Intel’s X

In this tech maelstrom, Nvidia emerges as a formidable titan, dominating SPACE’s data center chip with its AI accelerators. The success of these products has propelled Nvidia’s valuation to US$1.1 trillion, setting the stage for a historic revenue overtake of Intel in 2023, as per industry analysts’ projections.

In the throes of this seismic shift, Intel, once the uncontested giant in the chipmaking realm, now charts a course through a fiercely competitive landscape where the winds of change are blowing at gale force.

Intel has AI chips “for all”

At the AI Everywhere event in the heart of New York City, Intel unveiled a portfolio of AI products to enable customers’ AI solutions everywhere — across the data center, cloud, network, edge, and PC. “Intel is on a mission to bring AI everywhere through exceptionally engineered platforms, secure solutions, and support for open ecosystems. Our AI portfolio gets even stronger with today’s launch of Intel Core Ultra, ushering in the age of the AI PC and AI-accelerated 5th Gen Xeon for the enterprise,” Gelsinger said.

Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO, speaks at Intel’s AI Everywhere event on Thursday, 14 Dec 2023, in New York City. (Credit: Intel Corporation).

Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO, speaks at Intel’s AI Everywhere event on Thursday, 14 Dec 2023, in New York City. (Credit: Intel Corporation).

Intel’s latest innovation, the Intel Core Ultra, marks a significant architectural shift after four decades, ushering in a new era for AI-powered PCs and applications. This transformative technology encompasses CPU computing, graphics, power efficiency, and battery life advancements and introduces cutting-edge AI features. Unsurprisingly, projections suggest that AI PCs will dominate 80% of the market by 2028.

Featuring Intel’s first client on-chip AI accelerator, the neural processing unit (NPU), the Core Ultra achieves 2.5 times better power efficiency for AI acceleration than its predecessor. Partnering with over 100 software vendors, Intel plans to bring hundreds of AI-boosted applications to the PC market, promising a diverse range of creative, productive, and enjoyable experiences. 

The coming of Gaudi 3

The Core Ultra-based AI PCs are available from select US retailers for the holiday season, with plans to expand to over 230 designs worldwide in the next year. Then there’s the newly introduced 5th Gen Xeon processor family, which signifies a substantial advancement in performance and efficiency across the data center, cloud, network, and edge computing. 

Compared to the previous generation, these processors boast a remarkable 21% average performance gain for general computing, enabling a 36% higher average performance per watt across various customer workloads. Upgrading to the 5th Gen Xeon can result in a 77% reduction in total cost of ownership (TCO) for customers on a typical five-year refresh cycle.

Intel claims that Xeon is the only mainstream data center processor with built-in AI acceleration, with the new 5th Gen Xeon delivering up to 42% higher inference and fine-tuning on models as large as 20 billion parameters. “It’s also the only CPU with a consistent and ever-improving set of MLPerf training and inference benchmark results,” Intel contends.

During the event, IBM announced that 5th Gen Intel Xeon processors achieved up to 2.7x better query throughput on its watsonx.data platform than previous-generation Xeon processors during testing. Google Cloud, which will deploy 5th Gen Xeon next year, noted that Palo Alto Networks experienced a 2x performance boost in its threat detection deep learning models using built-in acceleration in 4th Gen Xeon through Google Cloud.

 And indie game studio Gallium Studios turned to Numenta’s AI platform running on Xeon processors to improve inference performance by 6.5x over a GPU-based cloud instance, saving cost and latency in its AI-based game, Proxi11.

Concluding the event, Gelsinger shared an update on the upcoming Intel Gaudi 3, which is set to debut next year. Revealing it for the first time, he showcased the next-generation AI accelerator designed for deep learning and creating large-scale generative AI models. Intel’s Gaudi pipeline has experienced rapid expansion, driven by proven performance advantages and competitive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) pricing.

 As the demand for generative AI solutions continues to rise, Intel aims to secure a significant share of the accelerator market in 2024, driven by its suite of AI accelerators and led by Gaudi.

“Can Intel chase down Nvidia?” We’ll know next year…