Microsoft has reportedly been developing its own generative artificial intelligence (AI) processors, a plan it might unveil at the Ignite 2023 developer conference, which will be held from November 14 to 17 in Seattle. According to an insider's leak to The Information, which remains under paywall, this strategic shift might lead to a significant boost for Microsoft's AI agenda, although the specifics of this proprietary AI chipset remain undisclosed.
Company's Shift from Dependence on NVIDIA
Currently, Microsoft's datacenters, which handle significant AI services such as Bing Chat AI chatbot, Bing Image Creator art generator, and the Copilot assistant service, rely on NVIDIA's H100 GPUs. Over the past year, the purchasing of NVIDIA GPUs for these data servers by Microsoft and other generative AI firms has considerably soared NVIDIA's revenues and stock price throughout 2023. However, Microsoft's potential in-house AI chip can alter this dynamic, causing a potential downturn in NVIDIA's revenues considering a likely decrease in its dependency on NVIDIA's chips.
Project ‘Athena' – Development and Partnerships
This new chip, concealed under the code name ‘Athena‘, has reportedly been in development since 2019, with an approximate 300 team members actively working on the project, as I reported earlier this year. This report coincides with another unverified claim from Bloomberg in May that suggests Microsoft's collaboration with AMD, a significant GPU competitor of NVIDIA, to co-develop the Athena chip. This alleged partnership also purportedly involves Microsoft providing financial support to AMD for the development of its own AI chip, offering further evidence of a shifting landscape in AI processor development and usage.
Details known about the chip include:
- 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.