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Google unveils Axion, its Arm-based CPU for AI enhancements

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Google has unveiled its latest custom-built processor, Axion, to enhance its artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, mitigate rising costs and improve energy efficiency. This chip will be tailored for AI applications and services, including YouTube Ads, and will be available for customers late this year.

The Axion chip is the latest addition to Google’s portfolio of specialised chips, which has been evolving for over a decade. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Google’s emphasis on custom chip development intensified following the release of ChatGPT in late 2022, triggering an industry-wide surge in AI innovation and challenging Google’s position in the internet landscape.

As per the internal reports, the new Axion processors have a 30% performance increase compared to existing cloud-based Arm chips. The chip also saw a 50% better performance than the x86 Intel and AMD chips.

“Technical documentation, including benchmarking and architecture details, will be available later this year,” Google spokesperson Amanda Lam told TechCrunch.

Unlike some competitors, Google has opted against direct chip sales, preferring to offer custom chip rental services to cloud customers.

“We’re making it easy for customers to bring their existing workloads to Arm,” said Mark Lohmeyer, VP of Google Cloud. “Axion is built on open foundations but customers using Arm anywhere can easily adopt Axion without re-architecting or re-writing their apps.”

By investing in proprietary chip technology like the Axion, Google aims to reduce its dependence on external vendors, signalling a shift towards self-sufficiency in hardware development.

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This move by Google signifies a broader trend where companies like Microsoft are investing in specialised chips.

“Google Cloud data centres are already 1.5X more efficient than the industry average and deliver 3X more computing power with the same amount of electrical power compared with five years ago,” said Amin Vahadat, VP/GM, Machine Learning, Systems, and Cloud AI at Google.

While this move places Google in potential competition with established partners like Intel and Nvidia, Google officials downplay the notion of rivalry, framing it as an opportunity to expand the technological landscape.

They see Axion as a catalyst for industry growth rather than a direct competitive move. This shift aligns with broader trends in the tech industry, where major players like Amazon and Microsoft are also ramping up efforts to produce their chips amidst the AI-driven demand surge. Meta has already signalled plans to develop an Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) that will require a lot of CPUs.

Google has been developing specialised chips for quite a while now, starting with piecing together random hardware to run its web search algorithm. Next, Google designed Tensor chips for Pixel devices with improved camera technology and several new features.

An intriguing aspect of Axion’s architecture is its foundation on Arm’s circuitry, making Google one of the prominent tech companies embracing this framework for data centre CPUs. Google’s departure from traditional CPU providers like Intel and AMD also signals the company’s push for innovation and diversification in chip sourcing.

The company is also facing stiff competition from within the departments. With Google having bought Antrhropic, it is facing issues in distributing chips to Anthropic and its teams.

As per industry experts, Google’s Axion will be a success “if the company achieved only half of its claimed performance improvements.”

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Kumar Hemant

Deputy Editor at Candid.Technology. Hemant writes at the intersection of tech and culture and has a keen interest in science, social issues and international relations. You can contact him here: kumarhemant@pm.me

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