Google ‘doubling down’ on custom chips, SoCs

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Google today announced that it’s “doubling down” on custom chips as “one way to boost performance and efficiency now that Moore’s Law no longer provides rapid improvements for everyone.” The company hired a new engineering vice president, formerly of Intel, to lead a design team — focused on SoCs — in Israel.

Uri Frank is Google’s new VP of Engineering for server chip design. He left Intel earlier this year — notably after being promoted in 2020 — and was head of the Core & Client Development Group.

Uri brings nearly 25 years of custom CPU design and delivery experience, and will help us build a world-class team in Israel.

Google describes the hire as part of its “work to meet computing demands from around the world.” The company is focused on Systems on Chip (SoC) — where “multiple functions sit on the same chip, or on multiple chips inside one package” — instead of motherboards:

Compute at Google is at an important inflection point. To date, the motherboard has been our integration point, where we compose CPUs, networking, storage devices, custom accelerators, memory, all from different vendors, into an optimized system. But that’s no longer sufficient: to gain higher performance and to use less power, our workloads demand even deeper integration into the underlying hardware. 

This approach allows for “orders of magnitude better” latency and bandwidth between components, as well as greatly reduced power and cost.

Just like on a motherboard, individual functional units (such as CPUs, TPUs, video transcoding, encryption, compression, remote communication, secure data summarization, and more) come from different sources. We buy where it makes sense, build it ourselves where we have to, and aim to build ecosystems that benefit the entire industry. 

The company’s current offerings include Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) to speed up ML workloads and its OpenTitan open-source silicon root-of-trust project. Over the years, it also developed custom hardware with partners, including SSDs, hard drives, network switches, and network interface cards.

This morning’s development is in the context of server chip design amid rumors that Google is also making custom processors for its consumer hardware devices, like Pixel phones and later Pixelbooks.

Google ended today’s announcement with this look towards the future:

Together with our global ecosystem of partners, we look forward to continuing to innovate at the leading edge of compute infrastructure, delivering the next generation of capabilities that are not available elsewhere, and creating fertile ground for the next wave of yet-to-be-imagined applications and services.

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