Will OpenCL endow 'Snow Leopard' Macs with supercomputer-like speed?
The technology allows developers to tap into the latent power of graphics chips
Computerworld - A recently approved technology standard should help software developers to tap the latent processing power of graphics chips and transform regular computers into veritable supercomputers -- at least for certain applications. Poised to take advantage of the technology first is Apple Inc.
Based on the popular C programming language, Version 1.0 of OpenCL was ratified and published by standards body The Khronos Group last week. The OpenCL programming language, developed by Apple, lets applications offload much of the processing from the CPUs to a computer's graphics chip, or GPU.
Modern GPUs from Nvidia, Advanced Micro Devices subsidiary ATI Technologies and Intel are as powerful as regular CPUs -- in some cases more so. For instance, ATI's latest Radeon HD 4870 GPU has almost 1 billion transistors, more than twice as many transistors as parent AMD's most powerful quad-core Phenom CPU.
Even when they are helping to display hyper-realistic first-person shooter video games or encoding video, GPUs tend to be woefully underutilized. OpenCL can solve that by allowing GPUs to accelerate many applications, especially those whose work can be broken down into many smaller parallel calculations, such as low-level number crunching, high-resolution graphics rendering and video encoding.
For those operations, GPUs "are blindingly fast," said Dan Olds, an analyst at the Gabriel Consulting Group. Encoding and rendering high-def video can be done between 40 to 100 times faster when apps are recompiled with OpenCL, said Olds. Health care applications such as those processing MRIs and CAT scans would see similar acceleration, he said.
"When you compare the performance to a standard Mac, this will sound like a supercomputer to some people," he said.
Ian Lao, an analyst at In-Stat, agreed. "This is not total hyperbole," he said. "The moment I enable OpenCL, I can take a desktop computer into the low-to-mid-end server/supercomputer category."
Apple, the immediate beneficiary
Apple looks to be the chief immediate beneficiary of OpenCL, which will be supported in its forthcoming move to Mac OS X 10.6, code-named Snow Leopard.
"That hides some of the complexity of OpenCL, such as the need for OS X to detect and download separate graphics drivers," said Lao, though he noted that Macs will still need specific Nvidia or ATI graphics chips to take advantage of the technology.
Olds doesn't think OpenCL will jump-start the Mac as a gaming platform, despite the potential rendering advantages. Rather, he thinks it will be used to accelerate the video and graphics applications used by creative professionals who have long bought Macs.
Mac OS X Snow Leopard
- OS X Snow Leopard desertion rate accelerates after patches stop
- Apple signals end to OS X Snow Leopard support
- Apple sneaks Safari update into Snow Leopard
- OS X Snow Leopard stubbornly rejects retirement
- Snow Leopard users: Just try to pry this from my cold, dead hands
- Apple goes against grain, extends support for Snow Leopard
- Mac users left wondering if OS X Snow Leopard's retired
- Opinion: In depth with Apple's Snow Leopard Server
- Apple fixes data deletion bug in Snow Leopard, blocks Atom 'hackintoshes'
- Smackdown: Windows 7 takes on Apple's Snow Leopard
- Security in the Cloud The main obstacle to enterprise cloud deployment, according to a new survey of more than 350 IT executives by Unisys and IDG Research,...
- A user-centric path to mobile security Mobile technology has revolutionized the way millions of people do their jobs. Employees now have unprecedented levels of flexibility, including the ability to...
- Transform IT to Cloud Services Brokerage: Featuring Gartner Research When IT works with the enterprise as a value-added supplier, it can free the organization to think big and alter the competitive playing...
- The Value of Cisco Services - Forrester TEI Study What are the potential financial impacts and benefits of Cisco Data Center Optimization Services? Discover how organizations saw up to 119% ROI and...
- Top 4 Digital Signage Fails Join RMG Networks for a look at four of the most common reasons digital signage fails in corporate businesses. Learn about strategies to...
- Mastering the Art of Mobile Content Management Mobile device usage in the enterprise has skyrocketed in recent years, and it continues to escalate. All Processors White Papers | Webcasts
Computerworld has launched its annual search for outstanding IT leaders who align technology with business goals. Nominate a top IT executive for the 2015 Premier 100 IT Leaders awards now through July 18.