Intel quietly kills off next-gen Knights Hill Xeon Phi chips


— 2:22 PM on November 13, 2017

The SC '17 conference is taking place this week, and while many companies are taking the opportunity to launch new products and services at the show, Intel is quietly taking the opportunity to announce the removal of a chip from its roadmap. As part of a discussion of its plans for exascale computing, or systems capable of processing one thousand petaFLOPS, Intel noted that it will abandon its next-generation Xeon Phi accelerator, code-named Knights Hill, in favor of "a new microarchitecture and a new platform specifically designed for exascale."

Although we didn't examine news of Knights Hill in depth when it first emerged, the few details that ever did come out regarding the chip suggested it would have been a follow-on to the Knights Landing Xeon Phi family fabricated on Intel's 10-nm process technology that would incorporate Intel's second-generation Omni-Path interconnect for supercomputing systems. Although it's treacherous to guess at the reasons behind any move like this one, the company's struggles with bringing its 10-nm products to market seem the most likely cause.

The first consumer CPUs fabricated on a 10-nm process, code-named Cannon Lake, are set to begin shipping "near the end of [this] year," while volume shipments are officially slated for the first half of next year. The only Cannon Lake CPU that Intel has officially shown operating in any form so far has been one for ultrabook form factors, suggesting small dies will lead the way on the new process. Given the monster die size of past Xeon Phis, yield or performance challenges for Knights Hill on the new process could have interfered with a timely introduction of the product.

It's unclear what this roadmap change means for the Knights Mill Xeon Phi, an accelerator that Intel added to its roadmap last August. Knights Mill was touted as an ideal platform for deep-learning tasks with its improved variable-precision support, among other features. Knights Mill is slated for shipment this quarter, so we may hear more about it this week. Cheers to @witeken on Twitter for the tip.

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