Israel unveils the world’s fastest AI chip

Source: Globes Newspaper

Israeli startup Habana Labs has come out of stealth and presented what it claims is the world’s fastest artificial intelligence (AI) chip, three times faster than that of its rival Nvidia, at a conference in the US. Similar technologies to Habana’s Goya chip have been announced by other companies, including Israeli startups, but most of them are still in the development stage.

The man behind the founding of Habana is Avigdor Willenz, the founder of chipmaker Galileo, which was sold to Marvell in 2000 for $2.7 billion. He serves as Habana’s chairman and lead investor.

The “EE Times” website says that Habana claims that it “handily beats CPUs and GPUs for deep-learning inference jobs,” although Habana has yet to reveal the full technical specifications of the new chip. “EE Times” also mentions that Willenz sold Israeli chipmaker Annapurna Labs to Amazon in 2015 for $350 million, which probably gives Habana good contacts with the online retail giant.

 AI chips that are installed in computer systems and data centers can process vast amounts of data (big data) such as identifying people in pictures, creating nervous system models, analyzing feelings in texts and much more. Habana’s chip was built from scratch for its AI and deep learning capabilities and will compete with Nvidia’s chips, which serve most AI data centers.

Habana says that its PCIe card based on its Goya HL-1000 processor delivers 15,000 images/second throughput on the ResNet-50 inference benchmark, with 1.3 milliseconds latency, while consuming only 100 watts of power. This is three times the speed of Nvidia’s chips. Habana claims that three of its processors can equal the performance of 169 Intel chips, or eight Nvidia chips of the type used in the Tesla car.

Habana was founded in 2016 by Willenz, CEO David Dahan and VP development Ran Halutz (the son of former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz). Dahan and Halutz formerly worked for PrimeSense, which was acquired by Apple for $345 million in 2013 and has had its technology incorporated in the iPhone X. Habana’s chief business officer Eitan Medina was CTO at Galileo.

Medina said, “Habana Labs has assembled a top-notch team with the goal of transforming the way AI processing is done in the cloud, data centers and other emerging applications. This product milestone is especially outstanding considering the company was just founded in 2016. We continue to focus on building a successful, enduring AI processor company to serve the high performance, fast growing AI space over the long run.”

Willenz said, “In the thirty years that I have been involved with teams that delivered the most sophisticated VLSI Devices, I have very rarely seen such high level of execution. The Goya silicon that we received, less than a year from its conception, has been rigorously tested and is ready for production. This amazing achievement, coupled with the platforms that Habana Labs will deliver in the coming quarters, will enable our customers to lead the AI revolution.”

Habana has 120 employees at its offices in Tel Aviv and San Jose, California and its development center in Caesarea. Investors other than Willenz include Bessamer Venture Partners and Waldman Capital Management.