Graphics Chips - GPU Forms - Stream Processing and General Purpose GPUs (GPGPU)

Stream Processing and General Purpose GPUs (GPGPU)

It is becoming increasing common to use a general purpose graphics processing unit as a modified form of stream processor. This concept turns the massive computational power of a modern graphics accelerator's shader pipeline into general-purpose computing power, as opposed to being hard wired solely to do graphical operations. In certain applications requiring massive vector operations, this can yield several orders of magnitude higher performance than a conventional CPU. The two largest discrete (see "Dedicated graphics cards" above) GPU designers, ATI and Nvidia, are beginning to pursue this approach with an array of applications. Both Nvidia and ATI have teamed with Stanford University to create a GPU-based client for the Folding@home distributed computing project, for protein folding calculations. In certain circumstances the GPU calculates forty times faster than the conventional CPUs traditionally used by such applications.

GPGPU can be used for many types of embarrassingly parallel tasks including ray tracing, computational fluid dynamics and weather modelling. They are generally suited to high-throughput type computations that exhibit data-parallelism to exploit the wide vector width SIMD architecture of the GPU.

Furthermore, GPU-based high performance computers are starting to play a significant role in large-scale modelling. Three of the 10 most powerful supercomputers in the world take advantage of GPU acceleration.

NVIDIA cards support API extensions to the C programming language such as CUDA ("Compute Unified Device Architecture") and OpenCL. CUDA is specifically for NVIDIA GPUs whilst OpenCL is designed to work across a multitude of architectures including GPU, CPU and DSP (using vendor specific SDKs). These technologies allow specified functions (kernels) from a normal C program to run on the GPU's stream processors. This makes C programs capable of taking advantage of a GPU's ability to operate on large matrices in parallel, while still making use of the CPU when appropriate. CUDA is also the first API to allow CPU-based applications to access directly the resources of a GPU for more general purpose computing without the limitations of using a graphics API.

Since 2005 there has been interest in using the performance offered by GPUs for evolutionary computation in general, and for accelerating the fitness evaluation in genetic programming in particular. Most approaches compile linear or tree programs on the host PC and transfer the executable to the GPU to be run. Typically the performance advantage is only obtained by running the single active program simultaneously on many example problems in parallel, using the GPU's SIMD architecture. However, substantial acceleration can also be obtained by not compiling the programs, and instead transferring them to the GPU, to be interpreted there. Acceleration can then be obtained by either interpreting multiple programs simultaneously, simultaneously running multiple example problems, or combinations of both. A modern GPU (e.g. 8800 GTX or later) can readily simultaneously interpret hundreds of thousands of very small programs.

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