GPU growth and the compute changeover

Attended SC17 last month in Denver and Nvidia had almost as big a presence as Intel. Their VR display was very nice as compared to some of the others at the show.

GPU past

GPU’s were originally designed to support visualization and the computation to render a specific scene quickly and efficiently. In order to do this they were designed with 100s to now 1000s of arithmetically intensive (floating point) compute engines where each engine could be given an individual pixel or segment of an image and compute all the light rays and visual aspects pertinent to that scene in a very short amount of time. This created a quick and efficient multi-core engine to render textures and map polygons of an image.

Image rendering required highly parallel computations and as such more compute engines meant faster scene throughput. This led to todays GPUs that have 1000s of cores. In contrast, standard microprocessor CPUs have 10-60 compute cores today.

GPUs today 

Funny thing, there are lots of other applications for many core engines. For example, GPUs also have a place to play in the development and mining of crypto currencies because of their ability to perform many cryptographic operations a second, all in parallel

Another significant driver of GPU sales and usage today seems to be AI, especially machine learning. For instance, at SC17, visual image recognition was on display at dozens of booths besides Intel and Nvidia. Such image recognition  AI requires a lot of floating point computation to perform well.

I saw one article that said GPUs can speed up Machine Learning (ML) by a factor of 250 over standard CPUs. There’s a highly entertaining video clip at the bottom of the Nvidia post that shows how parallel compute works as compared to standard CPUs.

GPU’s play an important role in speech recognition and image recognition (through ML) as well. So we find that they are being used in self-driving cars, face recognition, and other image processing/speech recognition tasks.

The latest Apple X iPhone has a Neural Engine which my best guess is just another version of a GPU. And the iPhone 8 has a custom GPU.

Tesla is also working on a custom AI engine for its self driving cars.

So, over time, GPUs will have an increasing role to play in the future of AI and crypto currency and as always, image rendering.


Photo Credit(s): SC17 logo, SC17 website;

GTX1070(GP104) vs. GTX1060(GP106) by Fritzchens Fritz;

Intel 2nd Generation core microprocessor codenamed Sandy Bridge wafer by Intel Free Press