Why Computing's Future Is Graphic

Two almost contradictory pieces of news came out today that prove that the next wave of computing is visual. Good graphics were once a mainstay of heavy industry for 3-D or seismic modeling, but in today’s world of digital everything and the coming 3-D web, rich graphics are becoming a need-to-have capability on every machine.

That emphasis on graphics is what’s leading to a rise in the number of GPUs shipped — they achieved a 17.8 percent growth rate for the third quarter of 2008, the highest quarter-over-quarter growth rate seen in the last six years, according to Jon Peddie Research. In the third quarter, more than 111 million GPUs were shipped, compared with 91 million shipped during the same period last year. Nvidia, Intel and AMD are the top makers of GPUs.

While the sales of specialty graphics chips are growing, one company that focused solely on making specialized graphics-rendering systems is shifting away from its niche hardware. Silicon Graphics Inc. said today that it would move away from specialized graphics hardware and build software that can better render graphics on personal computers and servers. SGI, which had filed for bankruptcy in 2006, today launched a series of products aimed at rendering and delivering large and compute-intensive graphics files to x86 servers, mobile phones and laptops.

This shift is partly a reponse to consumer GPUs cornering its market for high-end graphics — mimicking the functionality of its high-end systems with off-the-shelf PCs. In the computing market, yesterday’s wants become today’s necessities; graphics are in the middle of that transition.

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