The defeat of the world go champion by artificial intelligence (AI) program AlphaGo took the world by surprise. Since then, AI applications have expanded and concordantly large-scale computing applications have also become crucial. In the four short years since its establishment, NEUCHIPS has become a prominent IC design company in Taiwan for AI accelerators. The company focuses on purpose-built AI accelerator chips in its research and development. Under the leadership of the Chairman Dr. Youn-Long Lin, it has overcome the challenges of the pandemic in the last 3 years and the results of its research and development have been remarkable this year in Taiwan and abroad. Its built-in patented compression technology for customized chips significantly reduced the memory requirements while retaining high precision and ultra-low power consumption; the chips' performance rival that of the major AI company NVIDIA. During this period, NEUCHIPS has been one of only two IC designers in Taiwan to have commenced production with TSMC's 7nm process.
Advances in AI has led to increasing demand for computing power
NEUCHIPS was founded in the Innovative Incubation Center of National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in 2019 with the support of the Moonshot Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology. The company's founder, Dr. Youn-Long Lin of the Department of Computer Science at NTHU, serves as the Chairman.NEUCHIPS's main area of focus is on IC design for AI applications, and the company launched the world's first deep learning recommendation model (DLRM) RecAccel™ in the second year after the company was founded.
The world's first deep learning recommendation model (DLRM): RecAccel™
From Dr. Lin's point of view of industry trends, such as facial recognition, voice recognition, and the launch of ChatGPT at the end of last year, it is apparent that the demand for AI computing has increased by several orders of magnitude, with a 1,000-fold increase within a short period of time. "The rapid increase in the demand for computing can only be resolved with chip design and software optimization. This has created many market opportunities for NEUCHIPS."
However, he frankly confessed that there are still many significant hurdles because "the whole world can see the opportunities, so there are numerous competitors". Nonetheless, he also pointed out that they cannot give up just because there are challenges. The Ministry of Science and Technology has always encouraged university faculty and students to engage in the most advanced research. Accordingly, NEUCHIPS's primary advantage lies in the team's elite research capacity and capabilities.
In addition, Taiwan has a comprehensive semiconductor ecosystem, with a clear division of labor, such as IC design, IC manufacturing, and IP providers. This is another advantage for a relatively small startup team.
Domain-specific AI solutions with industry-leading efficiency
In this highly competitive environment, Dr. Lin's approach is to satisfy customer demand for low-cost and high-performance products with a special emphasis on cost effectiveness. Instead of producing universal chips, NEUCHIPS instead established itself in the AI ASIC (application-specific integrated circuits) market in order to provide chips with the best performance.
For instance, older computers or laptops used to have CD and DVD drives, but the cost of the chips for computers was high. Then, later on, dedicated DVD players emerged on the market, using customized chips with relatively lower costs. Another example would be the chips used for cryptocurrency mining, which used to consume too much electrical power, which meant that the returns could not cover the cost of electricity. Purpose-built mining chips produced were capable of reducing power consumption.
"Chips that accelerate AI computing are analogous to chips purpose-built for mining. We need to take into account the customer's procurement and operating costs. ASIC offers better performance, but each individual ASIC company must come up with their own purpose-built chips that can meet the market's requirements," Lin explained.
The NEUCHIPS team, at 50-plus strong and comprising senior IC designers and software designers, achieved significant breakthroughs this year.
According to the test data published by MLCommons, the RecAccelTM N3000 created by NEUCHIPS demonstrated 100% performance scalability and supported 1,060 queries per watt, ranking first in the industry with nearly 1.7 times the performance of NVIDIA's rival chip, the H100.
Furthermore, thanks to the solid foundation laid by the technical team, NEUCHIPS successfully recruited Ken Lau, former general manager of Intel Taiwan, to become the company's CEO, thereby enhancing the company's connections with market requirements and strengthening the team.
RecAccel™ N3000 Industry Leading Efficiency
Encouraging domestic startups to establish themselves onto the global stage
Dr. Lin is a veteran entrepreneur and has a passion for pursuing the things he loves. NEUCHIPS represents his second attempt at entrepreneurship, in which he led a group of adventurous people amid the uncertainties during the three years of the COVID pandemic, which started in the second year after the company was founded. Despite the difficulties during the pandemic, the team was able to take advantage of the situation. "We're locked down anyway, so let's focus on making AI accelerator chips."
Dr. Youn-Long Lin, Chairman of NEUCHIPS, encourages domestic startups to expand onto the global stage.
Years of hard work finally paid off. The company's chips purpose-built for specific applications (recommendation models) outperformed the equivalent NVIDIA chips, winning widespread praise. NEUCHIPS participated in the TIE Award this year and won second place in the semiconductor category, demonstrating the strong R&D capabilities of Taiwan. In addition to the company's recommendation models, NEUCHIPS will also be showcasing the results of Llama-2 with outstanding performance.
Dr. Lin confidently stated that the company has been in contact with many server and system companies. "NEUCHIPS is one of the few companies in the world that can demonstrate such impressive R&D results, and are aiming to win orders from domestic and foreign companies at this exhibition."
He also wants the government to encourage schools to set up startup teams and allow foreign companies to compete in international awards such as the TIE Award. This will help domestic startup teams gain visibility on the global stage and learn from each other, which will in turn strengthen industrial development.