Generally speaking, if your not using your Apple computer for graphics-intensive purposes, that NVIDIA GPU that you have if you bought your computer recently isn’t doing much. Definitely not earning its keep, you might say. In fact, you could think of it like your unemployed cousin who crashes on your couch and expects to be showered with praise when he does the dishes once every three or four weeks. All that is about to change, thanks to the next generation of Mac OS, according to NVIDIA product manager Sumit Gupta.
In an interview with CNET News on Sunday, Gupta discussed general purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU for short), and how Snow Leopard, and Windows 7, would take special advantage of this growing trend to more efficiently share the overall computing workload between CPU and GPU. Apple’s upcoming Snow Leopard OS X installment will use OpenCL to take advantage of the combined power of CPU and GPU using “heterogeneous” computing, meaning, the computer can use all processors at its disposal to get the job done.
Gupta points out that the technology is truly revolutionary, because for the first time, your computer will see your computer as having two processors as it will recognize the GPU as one as well. For an example of what this will mean in practice, he cites Google imaging software, Picasa. In Snow Leopard, the CPU will handle the running of Picasa in general, because it makes the most sense for it to do so, but as soon as you apply a filter to an image, the filter will be picked up and run by the GPU, because that’s a task which it can handle far more efficiently.
Apple products in particular will benefit from the new technology, since OS X and native applications for the Mac present such a visually rich environment. Of course, don’t expect all of your favorite programs to support GPGPU as soon as you boot up Snow Leopard for the first time. Applications need to be specially programmed to take advantage of the new tech, and not everyone is on board yet. In the past, the graphics language developers needed to use to program for the GPU has been a barrier because of its increased difficulty.
NVIDIA has revised the programming architecture to try to make it more familiar for devs used to coding in C-based languages, and they think they’ve succeeded. We won’t have to wait long to see how that pans out, with many predicting a summer launch of Snow Leopard’s final retail release.