Sapeon Goes Toe to Toe With Nvidia With New AI Accelerator

November 21, 2023 by Jake Hertz

The South Korean startup is making a name for itself in the AI computing hardware space.

In the dynamic world of AI semiconductors, the competition is intense and growing. While established players like Nvidia dominate the market, new startups enter the space every year, looking to carve out their own niche. One such startup is South Korea’s Sapeon, which recently unveiled the X330, a new piece of computing hardware aimed at AI workloads in the data center. 



The new X330 AI semiconductor

"Korea’s First AI Semiconductor for Data Centers"

Developed using TSMC’s 7 nm technology, the X330 is available in two configurations: the X330 Compact card and the X330 Prime card.

The X330 Compact card offers an FP8 and FP16 performance of 367 and 184 TFLOPS, respectively. It comes equipped with 16 GB of GDDR6 memory that includes error-correcting code (ECC) and a memory bandwidth of 256 GB/s, which allows for swift data transfer, ensuring that the processor handles AI inference tasks efficiently. The compact card offers TDP ranges from 75 to 250 W.


Specifications for the X330 Compact and Prime cards

Specifications for the X330 Compact and Prime cards

The X330 Prime card doubles these performance metrics, offering 734 TFLOPS for FP8 and 368 TFLOPS for FP16. It includes 32 GB of GDDR6 memory with ECC and a memory bandwidth of 512 GB/s. The Prime card offers TDP as high as 250 W. 

Compared to its predecessor, the X220, the X330's inference neural processing unit (NPU) covers a broader range of applications, with more than four times the computational performance and over twice the power efficiency. The X330 includes a built-in video codec and video post-processing IP. It can also handle four-channel 4K 60 fps video input, further accentuating the X330's suitability for video-related applications.


The Rise of Sapeon

Sapeon is a subsidiary of SK Telecom, one of South Korea’s most prominent telecom companies. With headquarters in California, Sapeon was formally created within SK Telecom in 2016 and has since spun off for targeted growth and development.

In 2020, the company released its first product, the X220, as the “first Korean non-memory semiconductor for data centers" to perform large-scale AI calculations quickly and at low power consumption.


X330 AI accelerator compared to its predecessor

The X330 AI accelerator compared to its predecessor and competing accelerators

In August 2023, Sapeon completed a successful Series A round of funding in which they acquired $45M at a valuation of $378M. According to the company's CEO, Soojung Ryu, much of the company’s potential growth and valuation is due to the rise of services like ChatGPT, which requires the support of extremely performant hardware. The company thus positions itself as a competitor to major players in the same space, such as Nvidia.

With its most recent round of funding, the company is scaling up to match current market technology and targeting the U.S. market.


A Competitor to Nvidia?

Sapeon is positioning itself as a competitive force in the AI semiconductor market. While it’s too soon to say if the company will remain a formidable player in the space and if it can ever compete with the likes of Nvidia, its current offerings put it in a good position. Still, more technical specifications and benchmark results are needed to accurately compare the new X330 offering to the rest of the marketplace.