ATI and Nvidia face off--obliquely

Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices' ATI division are taking different approaches to graphics processing in the next generations of their products. Both strategies have strengths and weaknesses, and I think it's too soon to pick the eventual winner in this long-running fight.

Before I get into my analysis, I should say that Nvidia paid me to write a white paper on the implications of its new GPU architecture (code-named Fermi) for high-performance computing applications. The white paper was released as part of the Fermi launch event at Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference last week.

Nvidia also paid for white papers from two other well-known microprocessor analysts, Nathan Brookwood of Insight64 and my friend and former colleague Tom Halfhill of Microprocessor Report. UC Berkeley professor David Patterson wrote a fourth white paper, and Nvidia wrote one of its own. All of these works take a different approach to the subject; all are worth reading if you need to understand what Fermi is all about.

In short, I think the Fermi architecture has been more thoroughly white-papered than any graphics chip design in history. All five of these documents are available on the Fermi home page on Nvidia's Web site, and just in case that page is moved or changed, you're welcome to take advantage of my own mirror of my white paper.

I've spent much of the last several days reading these documents plus David Kanter's excellent article on Fermi over on his Real World Technologies site. David managed to get some details on Fermi that Nvidia didn't give to the rest of us.

I've also had time to go through the coverage of ATI's recent launch of the RV870, which is what Nvidia's Fermi-based chips will be competing against. The first of Nvidia's chips bears the internal code name of GF100, and it's huge. Here's a life-size photo:… Read more

OpenCL benchmarks arriving

Apple has touted using the "Power of the GPU" with the OpenCL API, but how does it run in practice? Very few current applications are coded to use Apple's new OpenCL API that is included with Snow Leopard; however, recently there have been several benchmarks that tests some of the OpenCL capabilities, showing the potential for impressive speed gains. While these programs are only demonstration uses of OpenCL, they offer a view into what can be done with the technology.… Read more

Snow Leopard: The CNET and Technica(l) reviews

Snow Leopard has been out for a few days now, and the reviewers have been hard at work. On its release I posted my initial impressions and review of the OS, many of which confirmed the expectations I had before installing Snow Leopard. Recently, there have been a couple of reviews that outline the changes in Snow Leopard, and what to expect from both a user standpoint and from a technical standpoint.… Read more

Apple's new OS geared for multicore future

Apple began shipping Snow Leopard on Friday, but the true importance of the Mac OS X update likely will emerge well afterward.

That's because Mac OS X 10.6 begins a longer-term Apple attempt to get ahead by cracking a problem facing the entire computer industry: squeezing useful work out of modern processors. Instead of stuffing Snow Leopard with immediately obvious new features, Apple is trying to adjust to the new reality in which processors can do many jobs simultaneously rather than one job fast.

"We're trying to set a foundation for the future," said Wiley Hodges, director of Mac OS X marketing.

Apple shed some light on its project, called Grand Central Dispatch, at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, but most real detail was shared only in with programmers sworn to secrecy. Now the company has begun talking more publicly about it and other deeper projects to take advantage of graphics chips and Intel's 64-bit processors.

The moves align Apple better with changes in computing. For years, chipmakers such as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices had steadily increased the clock rate of their processors, and programmers got accustomed to a performance boost with each new generation. But earlier this decade, problems derailed the gigahertz train. … Read more

OpenCL: Parallel programmers' new best friend

Apple's Snow Leopard operating system, which hits the streets on Friday, has plenty of new technology--but one of its major new features will soon be available on Microsoft Windows, Linux, and other major platforms.

OpenCL, the Open Computing Language, was originally proposed by Apple to support parallel programming on GPUs. There are other GPU programming languages, such as Nvidia's CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) extensions for C and the Brook stream program language developed at Stanford University and included in Advanced Micro Devices' Stream Computing software development kit, but rather than choosing one of these languages, Apple chose to create a new standardRead more

Snow Leopard preview at WWDC

Editor's note: This review has been updated from its original to include source information.

Among the news and announcements at the WWDC Keynote this morning, Apple previewed the next iteration of Mac OS X Leopard. Snow Leopard, as Mac OS X 10.6 is known, appears to pack a lot of new features and is slated for release in September, though no hard dates were announced during the Keynote.

The goal of Snow Leopard, according to Apple, was not to reinvent Mac OS X, but to refine, simplify, and speed up the overall experience. They were careful to point … Read more

OpenCL goes beyond Apple

On Tuesday, an industry consortium ratified the OpenCL 1.0 specification, a standard that started as an Apple proposal but has gained many supporters, including graphics chip companies Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.

OpenCL, or Open Computing Language, is essentially an open industry standard for 3D graphics and computer audio and is meant to extend the capabilities of the graphics processing unit (GPU).

Not surprisingly, graphics chip companies have been quick to pick it up, including Nvidia and AMD's ATI graphics unit, which both made separate announcements Tuesday, along with the broader announcement from The Khronos Group consortium.

OpenCL … Read more

Industry group to evaluate Apple's OpenCL as standard

The PC and mobile-computing industries are getting together to propose a standard for computing on graphics processors, and they are going to start their evaluation with Apple's OpenCL technology.

The Khronos Group, an industry consortium that already administers well-known standards like OpenGL, announced the creation of a Compute Working Group on Monday to develop an industry standard for allowing software developers to tap into the performance offered by graphics processors, or GPUs.

Many familiar names dot the list of founding members, including chip companies such as AMD, Nvidia, and Intel, mobile industry representatives such as ARM, Motorola, Samsung, and … Read more