Monday, November 18th 2019

VIA CenTaur Develops a Multi-core x86 Processor for Enterprise with in-built AI Hardware

Tasting Intel's blood in the water with AMD's return to competitiveness, dormant x86 licensee VIA wants to take another swing at the market, this time with a multi-core processor targeted at enterprises and possibly workstations, developed by its subsidiary CenTaur. The company appears to want to cash in on the AI boom, and could develop turnkey facial-recognition CCTV solutions with the chip. CenTaur is ready with a working prototype. It features eight 64-bit x86 CPU cores, and an on-die "AI co-processor" named NCORE. A ringbus connects the eight CPU cores and the NCORE with the processor's other components. The processor features 16 MB of shared L3 cache, a quad-channel DDR4-3200 memory interface, and a 44-lane PCI-Express gen 3.0 root-complex, along with a fully integrated southbridge, making it an SoC. It also appears to be multi-socket capable, although VIA didn't detail the interconnect in use.

The NCORE is a PCI-mapped device to the software, which provides functions such as DNN building and training acceleration. From the looks of it, there's more to NCORE than simply a fixed-function hardware that multiplies matrices. Its developers state that the device accelerates AI at a rate of "20 trillion AI operations/sec with 20 terabytes/sec memory bandwidth." The CPU cores on the processor tick at 2.50 GHz, and while VIA hasn't made any IPC claims, it has mentioned support for the cutting-edge AVX-512 instruction-set, something even "Zen 2" lacks, which possibly indicates a powerful FPU. The silicon measures 195 mm², and has been built on 16 nm FinFET node at TSMC. VIA will demonstrate the unnamed processor and its testbed at ISC East 2019, held on November 20 and 21.

The full technology announcement slide-deck follows.

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20 Comments on VIA CenTaur Develops a Multi-core x86 Processor for Enterprise with in-built AI Hardware

#1
Prima.Vera
That would be great to have again a 3rd competitor on the CPU market, however by the look of it, this is made for a different purpose and area.
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#2
tabascosauz
The NCORE is interesting. One of the big advertising points of Cascade Lake-SP was to [try and] close the gap with traditionally favoured GPU compute in the form of RTX Titan (though it seemed to be more about being "a little bit faster than before" than "competitive"), with the two new VNNI instructions under AVX-512. Apparently, fancy new instructions suck compared to something that's just built for the image recognition job.

But the selling point of the NCORE would be that those 8 other cores could be freed up to do other things, and yet, there isn't a whole lot of information on how well those other 8 cores can do general purpose compute, which seems kind of important given the stance they've taken here. And what's "high" IPC relative to? 2.5GHz is a rather middling max clock.

I guess this throws more a wrench into AMD's works, since AVX-512 is a leg up, but Intel is the big player here, and they have those instructions too with a lot more cores for general compute. But those Xeon Silvers and Bronzes look ripe for the picking with half the AVX-512 hardware, if these really run 2.5GHz all-core.

@TheLostSwede piss poor marketing slides, I suspect. From the NCORE block diagram slide, it appears to imply that the NCORE is multi core and it runs at 2.5GHz, but another slide infers that the entire platform (cores + NCORE) runs at 2.5GHz.
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#3
TheLostSwede
tabascosauz
The NCORE is interesting. One of the big advertising points of Cascade Lake-SP was to [try and] close the gap with traditionally favoured GPU compute in the form of RTX Titan (though it seemed to be more about being "a little bit faster than before" than "competitive"), with the two new VNNI instructions under AVX-512. Apparently, fancy new instructions suck compared to something that's just built for the image recognition job.

But the selling point of the NCORE would be that those 8 other cores could be freed up to do other things, and yet, there isn't a whole lot of information on how well those other 8 cores can do general purpose compute, which seems kind of important given the stance they've taken here. And what's "high" IPC relative to? 2.5GHz is a rather middling max clock.

I guess this throws more a wrench into AMD's works, since AVX-512 is a leg up, but Intel is the big player here, and they have those instructions too with a lot more cores for general compute. But those Xeon Silvers and Bronzes look ripe for the picking with half the AVX-512 hardware, if these really run 2.5GHz all-core.
They're going to be doing some demos tomorrow ISC East and release more details on the 2nd of December.

It looks like it's only the NCORE that runs at 2.5GHz, which technically isn't one core in the traditional sense.
Also keep in mind that this is only a reference design so far, not MP, so they might still be able to make it run faster.

From a chat with one of their guys a while ago, they're apparently getting similar IPC to Ryzen, so it should still be pretty decent in terms of performance.
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#4
DeathtoGnomes
I'd like to know more about the ring bus, I'm guessin that might be a choke point of sorts.
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#6
john_
The last time I heard the name CenTaur there was also a nice counter that was going down for over a months. Then it gone to zero, it was reset, kept going down and then, nothing. I don't really expect anything from them. Are they making real products or just designs for academic reasons? Isn't also VIA behind those Chinese processors, the Zhaoxin series? I doubt they have their focus on whatever their subsidiary is making. I could be completely wrong here.
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#7
TheLostSwede
john_
The last time I heard the name CenTaur there was also a nice counter that was going down for over a months. Then it gone to zero, it was reset, kept going down and then, nothing. I don't really expect anything from them. Are they making real products or just designs for academic reasons? Isn't also VIA behind those Chinese processors, the Zhaoxin series? I doubt they have their focus on whatever their subsidiary is making. I could be completely wrong here.
Yes, Centaur designed the Zhaoxin chips, but most of that is really old hat stuff.
I guess there's a reason why this is an SoC and doesn't need a chipset, as VIA was never very good at supporting Centaur...

This thing is about a year late, but I believe this should be a lot more competitive, if not quite up there with AMD and Intel in terms of overall CPU performance, but as I said, the Centaur people I've spoken to (that I've known for well over a decade) told me that the IPC should be very similar to Ryzen.
Posted on Reply
#8
Frick
Fishfaced Nincompoop
Nano ITX with Ryzen like IPC and four ethernets would be massively sweet.
Posted on Reply
#9
MrMilli
Isn't this just the Zhaoxin ZX-E?

From Wikipedia:
ZX-E / KX-6000 / KH-30kLujiazui201916nm8 (up to)3GHz (up to)DDR4
PCIe 3.0
SoC
Edit:

I'm wrong. This has a GPU instead of the NCORE, a dual channel memory interface and is probably still using Nano cores.
Posted on Reply
#10
Tralalak
MrMilli
Isn't this just the Zhaoxin ZX-E?

From Wikipedia:
ZX-E / KX-6000 / KH-30kLujiazui201916nm8 (up to)3GHz (up to)DDR4
PCIe 3.0
SoC
Edit:


I'm wrong. This has a GPU instead of the NCORE, a dual channel memory interface and is probably still using Nano cores.
ZX-F OctaCore 2000MHz (CentaurHauls Family 6 Model 71 Stepping 1)
source:
https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/526995
Posted on Reply
#11
Vinska
Keep in mind, guys, this is a x86 chip, NOT a AMD64 (or x86-64 if you only speak plebian) chip. While VIA does have a x86 (owned by Intel) license due to historical reasons, it doesn't have a license for AMD64 (owned by AMD).

EDIT: disregard the above; I'm a brainlet
Posted on Reply
#12
ratirt
This would have been awesome if VIA joined the desktop CPU market :D I remember Cyrix processors and they were not so bad :D
Posted on Reply
#13
btarunr
Editor & Senior Moderator
Vinska
Keep in mind, guys, this is a x86 chip, NOT a AMD64 (or x86-64 if you only speak plebian) chip. While VIA does have a x86 (owned by Intel) license due to historical reasons, it doesn't have a license for AMD64 (owned by AMD).
Nah, VIA has access to x86-64 ISA. CenTaur Nano "Isaiah" (2011) was very much an x86-64 processor.
Posted on Reply
#15
btarunr
Editor & Senior Moderator
Lookie, this guy and his 8 GB of RAM: https://valid.x86.fr/vubuk5



VIA implemented SSE4.1 even before AMD could. Now it's going to beat AMD to AVX-512.
Posted on Reply
#16
R-T-B
btarunr
Lookie, this guy and his 8 GB of RAM: https://valid.x86.fr/vubuk5


That madlad. He'd better slow down or he might actually get console level performance...
Posted on Reply
#17
Vinska
btarunr
Nah, VIA has access to x86-64 ISA. [...]
R-T-B
Was going to say, yes they have the license and [...]
I guess I need to sleep more once in a while
Thanks for correcting me! :toast:
Posted on Reply
#18
Tralalak
Demo system with new CPU with AI coprocessor @ ISC East in New York!
[MEDIA=instagram]B5GCSZkhrL2[/MEDIA]
Posted on Reply
#19
MrMilli
Tralalak
ZX-F OctaCore 2000MHz (CentaurHauls Family 6 Model 71 Stepping 1)
source:
https://browser.geekbench.com/v5/cpu/526995
If that's really ZX-F... Clock speed seems a bit low but it could be a engineering sample.
Still going by the "just faster than Goldmont Plus performance", it seems that CPU is still using a core descendant from the Isaiah core.
Posted on Reply
#20
gamefoo21
Am I the only one with horrible memories of Via processors?

They did make some pretty cool chipsets though at times. K7 with 4 slots of dual channel ram and sata built in... mind bending... lol

*still hates Nforce with a passion*
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