Feeds

Pre-AMD, ATI preps novel server charge

GPGPU for U and me

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Even before its merger with AMD closes, ATI plans to charge the server market with a new type of graphics product that could shake up the high performance computing scene. Advocates of ATI's technology say it could create a lucrative new revenue stream for the company and add some weight to the ATI/AMD marriage.

ATI has invited reporters to a Sept. 29 event in San Francisco at which it will reveal "a new class of processing known as Stream Computing." The company has refused to divulge much more about the event other than the vague "stream computing" reference. The Register, however, has learned that a product called FireStream will likely be the star of the show.

The FireStream product marks ATI's most concerted effort to date in the world of GPGPUs or general purpose graphics processor units. Ignore the acronym hell for a moment because this gear is simple to understand. GPGPU backers just want to take graphics chips from the likes of ATI and Nvidia and tweak them to handle software that normally runs on mainstream server and desktop processors.

The GPGPU concept isn't new, but for the first time, hardware and software companies have matured to the point where they can make the technology live up to its promise. And what a promise it is.

The enormous horsepower delivered by ATI and Nvidia's graphics gear could facilitate 10x to 30x performance gains on a fairly wide variety of software loads typically handled by standard processors. Such a performance boost would be of major interest to big spenders in the government lab, oil and gas and bio-tech industries who want all the juice they can get. Even better, the GPGPU products should prove both cost effective and power efficient when compared to current processor options.

"There's this whole change going on right now," said Mike Houston, a PhD student at Stanford's Graphics Lab. "Now, there are companies doing this stuff for real. And, more importantly, there are big businesses that will buy their stuff."

Researchers at Stanford, the University of North Carolina and the University of Waterloo are just some of the folks who have hammered away at the software problems around GPGPUs for years. The computer science crowd has worked with - and in some cases convinced - ATI and Nvidia to open up their hardware and programming interfaces to make it easier to run common software on the GPUs. The University of Waterloo, for example, has a programming language called SH to ease the software translation process, while Stanford has Brook.

A company called RapidMind - formerly Serious Hack - commercialized SH in 2004. At the SIGGRAPH conference this year, RapidMind showed off its software working on the Cell processor developed by IBM, Toshiba and Sony.

PeakStream, another company going after this market, came out of stealth mode this week with a software programming platform meant to make it easier for developers to push code onto GPUs, multi-core processors and the Cell chip. The company turned to Stanford's Brook for inspiration and basically provides a type of shim that goes between a GPU and applications.

Researchers have zeroed in on products such as FPGAs, GPUs and the Cell chip because of their potential to speed up demanding floating-point operations. Most of the action right now has centered around software that relies on what's known as single precision floating point calculations. We're talking about horsepower hungry code for things such as medical imaging, computational fluid dynamics and seismic modeling.

As it turns, some of the biggest spenders in the hardware world use tons of floating-point heavy software. So, the software middlemen along with companies such as ATI and Nvidia could make serious profits if they're able to deliver on the GPGPU potential.

Of course, the software problem is not an easy hurdle to clear.

Up to now, developers have mostly focused on single-core server processors from IBM, Sun Microsystems, HP, Intel and AMD. Savvy types in the Unix world have written lots of multi-threaded software to spread work across large servers with tens and even hundreds of chips. Multi-threaded software has become even more important in recent years with chip makers producing dual-core, four-core and even eight-core chips.

The GPGPU world presents new challenges.

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Next page: *Bootnote

More from The Register

next story
PEAK APPLE: iOS 8 is least popular Cupertino mobile OS in all of HUMAN HISTORY
'Nerd release' finally staggers past 50 per cent adoption
Tim Cook: The classic iPod HAD to DIE, and this is WHY
Apple, er, couldn’t get the parts for HDD models
Apple spent just ONE DOLLAR beefing up the latest iPad Air 2
New iPads look a lot like the old one. There's a reason for that
Google Glassholes are UNDATEABLE – HP exec
You need an emotional connection, says touchy-feely MD... We can do that
Caterham Seven 160 review: The Raspberry Pi of motoring
Back to driving's basics with a joyously legal high
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Getting ahead of the compliance curve
Learn about new services that make it easy to discover and manage certificates across the enterprise and how to get ahead of the compliance curve.