Technology and chip companies

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Steve Jobs passed away more than a decade ago, but his genius still reigns supreme in the tech sector. The Apple co-founder has taught other executives.

No matter what is going on inside a smartphone case or under the cover of a computer, the only thing buyers are interested in are the products and experiences he liked to call “magical”. So it was surprising to see Apple giving such importance to the technical performance of its recently designed chips. The company first came up with a design for its unique iPad processor more than a decade ago, and its silicon capability has stood out since 2020, when the company began replacing Intel processors inside the Mac with chips. its M1. .

Since then, the company has made performance gains that have knocked out competitors. Two larger versions of the M1 were adopted later, and this week Apple combined two of its larger M1 chips to power a new workstation aimed at video editing professionals.

While the specifications of these chips can cause annoyance to the average consumer, these home-designed processors have become central to the ambitions of large technology companies and include the “TPU” processing unit for Google, which is specified with the application of an accelerator. artificial intelligence and “Graviton” data center chips. From Amazon Net. Given the dimensions in which such companies operate, their home-designed chips could represent a broader reorganization of the industry.

One explanation for the new focus on chip designs from the inside is the amount of chips that big tech companies are eating. Another explanation is that small improvements in the price / performance equation, for more demanding applications, can bring significant benefits. Google TPUs, which were developed to handle data-intensive machine learning, have become the most important in ASICs created for specific tasks. Likewise, the massive financing of AI chips by Tesla could one day give the company an edge in self-driving vehicles.

Meanwhile, the complex supply chain for the chip industry was evolving to facilitate entry for such companies. For Apple, this has meant the use of designs by ARM technology provider as building blocks for its chips, and in turn, the use of Taiwan Semiconductor Corporation’s most advanced production lines to produce processors with world-leading specifications.

The ability of technology companies to integrate chip design into their broader technology development plans will give them the most significant advantage and, in turn, pose the greatest challenge to traditional chip manufacturers. .

This union can take many forms. Cloud Computing services could bring new chips from its Annapurna design labs to production as soon as they are manufactured, and Apple has reported that all of its applications run faster on its chips.

Not long ago, Google took a look at the many benefits of its internal chip design, outlining the 10 lessons it has learned by building its own TPU since 2015. These range from economical (the importance lies in the full cost of the system and not just the chips) to very technical (maximizing the chips with the latest technology possible in the design of neural networks).

With gains less than downsizing on chip features, according to Google researchers, the best hope for new strides in speed and performance lies in the joint design of hardware, software and neural networks, something that takes precedence over power. of companies that do all the work.These things are under one roof.

To date, the main concern of the chip industry has been central processing units, accelerating the penetration of ARM models into markets that had long been monopolized by the Intel X86 architecture.

The other company that will face an unpleasant situation may be Nvidia, which has become the most valuable chip company in the world thanks to its GPUs, which were originally developed for video games, but are now widely used in applications of “accelerated computer” as machine learning.

This week, Apple compared its latest M1 chips favorably to Nvidia’s high-end GPUs. AWS also claimed significant performance benefits over Nvidia from its second-generation Trinium chip.

The critical test of success will be how well new chips can move big tech companies into new markets. For Apple, this could include self-driving vehicles and digital and augmented reality headphones. These goods require a major step in energy processing. But if the spirit of Steve Jobs is still alive at Apple headquarters, those chips will be the last thing on people’s minds when the day comes when they appear in public.

Translation: Noha Hawa

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