Nvidia To Enter High-Performance Computing Market This Summer - InformationWeek

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Nvidia To Enter High-Performance Computing Market This Summer

The graphics chipmaker is preparing its G8 series chips for the oil and gas industry, finance, medicine, and scientific research.

Nvidia, known for its graphics cards used to boost videogame performance, plans to launch in June a product line for high-performance computing.

The new offerings would be based on Nvidia's G8 series chips, and its Cuda software development kit. The company currently has a G80 chip, but plans to add others.

Nvidia plans to offer products for workstations and for server clusters, an architecture commonly used in processing computational tasks requiring maximum horsepower. Such computing jobs are common in the oil and gas industry, finance, medicine, and scientific research.

HPC would be a brand new market for Nvidia. The company currently sells its graphics processing units, or GPUs, for use in consumer electronics, such as gaming computers and portable entertainment devices; and in professional workstations, such as those used in computer-assisted design.

In branching out, Nvidia is using the same parallel-processor design it offers in its other product lines. The company's chips work alongside a primary CPU, and offload the graphics processing. The result is faster rendering, and more efficient use of CPU's power. While such sharing of workloads isn't necessary for running Microsoft Word, it becomes critical for handling today's advanced video games.

Nvidia is hoping it can convince software developers, as well as circuit board and computer manufacturers, that its design, while requiring more work, can make an application run 10 to 100 times faster, depending on the architecture of the software, said Andy Keane, general manager of Nvidia's GPU computing, the unit established to build the new business.

"(Our product) handles the computing-intensive piece of the application," he told InformationWeek. "The CPU handles the OS, data movement, and the analysis part of the computation. We're the mathematically intensive part."

In building applications for Nvidia's design, a developer writing C or C++ code for the CPU would extract the piece related to the applications' mathematical computations, and use Cuda's compiler, so that the component would run on Nvidia's chip, Keane said. "What we're moving every on to is a new architecture that's accessed in C, and everyone knows C."

Nvidia is looking to move into a new market at a time when its graphics processing business faces a threat from CPU makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Both are incorporating more graphics functionality into their chips. AMD, which bought Nvidia rival ATI Technologies last fall, is furthest along in the effort. AMD plans to release in 2009 a line of processors codenamed Fusion that would merge x86 and ATI graphics cores onto one chip. The processors would initially be available for notebooks. AMD plans to eventually offer them for desktops and workstations.

Nvidia hasn't released a brand name for the new product line. The company is currently talking to circuit-board manufacturers, computer makers, and companies that use high-performance computing systems to build support for the new design. "We're the evangelists," Keane said.

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