Reports of Microsoft developing its own AI chip have been circling for some time. Now, The Information reports that Microsoft is working on the AI chip, which is developing under the codename “Athena”. The processor will compete with Nvidia's Hopper H100 GPU, which is also used by Microsoft for its Azure cloud platform.
The Athena chip is expected to support large-scale natural language processing (NLP) applications, such as conversational agents and text summarization. Microsoft wants its AI CPU to reduce how much the company relies on Nvidia and also deliver a more custom experience to users.
Athena is not expected to be announced until 2024. Not much is known about the chip, so it is hard to compare it with other AI chips that are already available or announced. However, based on the information, here is what we know so far:
- Microsoft Athena will be built on the TSMC 5-nanometer process. Nvidia's Hopper H100 GPU and AMD's EPYC Milan chipsets both also operate on this platform.
- Athena will fully support large-scale natural language processing (NLP) apps, such as conversational chatbots. While other AI chips can do this, Microsoft's processor will have higher customization and better integration with the company's own cloud services and software.
- Microsoft's AI chip will be a rival to other Big Tech CPUs, such as Google's TPU, Meta's GROK, and Amazon's Trainium.
TSMC to Be the Sole Athena Manufacturer?
Earlier this year, I reported on Microsoft turning to TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) to build the Athena chip, using the company's CoWoS platform.
TSMC is the biggest contract chip manufacturer in the world. Its Chip-on-Wafer-on-Substrate (CoWoS) chipset is a platform that is designed for high-performance computing, such as AI solutions. The company is also opening a new US plant in 2024 that will supply chipsets to Apple. A long-standing customer, Apple makes up 25% of TSMC's revenue each year.
If Microsoft's current push in AI continues, the company may become another major revenue driver for TSMC.
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