Tag Archives: tegra

Big GPU news at NVIDIA tech conference including first Tegra with CUDA

NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang made a number of announcements at the GPU Technology Conference (GTC) keynote yesterday, including an updated roadmap for both desktop and mobile GPUs.


Although the focus of the GTC is on high-performance computing using Tesla GPU accelerator boards, Huang’s announcements were not limited to that area but also covered the company’s progress on mobile and on the desktop. Huang opened by mentioning the recently released GeForce Titan graphics processor which has 2,600 CUDA cores, and which starts from under £700 so is within reach of serious gamers as well as developers who can make use of it for general-purpose computing. CUDA enables use of the GPU for massively parallel general-purpose computing. NVIDIA is having problems keeping up with demand, said Huang.

There are now 430 million CUDA capable GPUs out there, said Huang, including 50 supercomputers, and coverage in 640 university courses.


He also mentioned last week’s announcement of the Swiss Piz Daint supercomputer which will include Tesla K20X GPU accelerators and will be operational in early 2014.

But what is coming next? Here is the latest GPU roadmap:


Kepler is the current GPU architecture, which introduced dynamic parallelism, the ability for the GPU to generate work without transitioning back to the CPU.

Coming next is Maxwell, which has unified virtual memory. The GPU can see the CPU memory, and the CPU can see the GPU memory, making programming easier. I am not sure how this impacts performance, but note that it is unified virtual memory, so the task of copying data between host and device still exists under the covers.

After Maxwell comes Volta, which focuses on increasing memory bandwidth and reducing latency. Volta includes a stack of DRAM on the same silicon substrate as the GPU, which Huang said enables 1TB per second of memory bandwidth.

What about mobile? NVIDIA is aware of the growth in devices of all kinds. 2.5bn high definition displays are sold each year, said Huang, and this will double again by 2015. These displays are mostly not for PCs, but on smartphones or embedded devices.

Here is the roadmap for Tegra, NVIDIA’s system-on-a-chip (SoC).


Tegra 4, which I saw in preview at last month’s mobile world congress in Barcelona, includes a software-defined modem and computational camera, able to tracks moving objects while keeping them in focus.

Next is Tegra Logan. This is the first Tegra to include CUDA cores so you can use it for general-purpose computing. It  is based on the Kepler GPU and supports full CUDA 5 computing as well as Open GL 4.3. Logan with be previewed this year and in production early 2014.

After Logan comes Parker. This will be based on the Maxwell GPU (see above) and NVIDIA’s own Denver (ARM-based) CPU. It will include FinFET multigate transistors.

According to Huang, Tegra performance will includes by 100 times over 5 years. Today’s Surface RT (which runs Tegra 3) may be sluggish, but Windows RT will run fine on these future SoCs. Of course Intel is not standing still either.

Finally, Huang announced the Grid Visual Computing Appliance, which I will be covering shortly in another post.

Steve Ballmer at CES: Microsoft pins mobile hopes on Windows 8

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave the keynote at CES in Las Vegas last night. It was a polished performance and everything worked, but was short on vision or any immediate answer to the twin forces of Apple iPad and Google Android which are squeezing out Microsoft in the mobile world – smartphones and tablets – which currently forms the centre of attention in personal computing.

That said, CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show; and Ballmer did a good job showing off how well Kinect is performing, claiming sales of 8 million already. He showed more examples of controlling Xbox through speech and gesture, and said that Kinect is also boosting sales of the console; clearly it is now taking it beyond the hardcore market of first-person shooters.

We saw some fun new Windows devices, such as Acer’s dual-screen Iconia laptop.


There was also a demonstration of the updated Microsoft Surface which now runs full Windows 7 and does not require hidden cameras, so that it can now be used in more scenarios, such as for interactive digital signage.

All well and good; but what about mobile? We got a Windows Phone 7 demo, but no sales figures, nor any mobile partners on stage; I’m guessing they are too busy promoting their new Android devices. Ballmer did say that the phone is coming on Verizon and Sprint in the first half of this year. Application availability is improving, but how will Microsoft win attention for its smartphone? My local high street is full of mobile phone shops, none of which even stock it as far as I can tell. There is a tie-in with Xbox Live which may help a little.

The problem though is that Microsoft does not seem to be wholeheartedly behind the Windows Phone 7 OS, which is based on Windows CE with a new GUI and Silverlight/XNA runtime for applications. Rather, Microsoft is signalling that full Windows is its future mobile operating system. At CES it announced Windows on ARM, the processor of choice in mobile, and during the keynote we saw the next version of Windows (though with the Windows 7 GUI) running on various ARM devices.

The power available in new System on a Chip packages like NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 leaves me in no doubt that full Windows could technically run on almost any size of device; but that does not make it the sensible choice for all form factors. Note also that while it was not mentioned at CES, NVIDIA has said that Tegra 2 is optimized for Android.

Microsoft could plausibly have released a tablet based on the Windows Phone 7 OS, which is built for touch control, this year. Instead, it will be at least 2012 before we see a Windows 8 tablet, and we are taking it on trust that this will really work nicely with touch and not need a stylus dangling at the side. By then Apple will, I presume, be releasing iPad generation 3.

Putting this in a developer context, what is Microsoft’s mobile development platform? Silverlight and XNA? The full Windows native API? Or HTML 5? Each of these is very different and it seems to me a muddled story.

Windows 8 will run on ARM processors – a natural home for Silverlight?

Microsoft announced today at CES in Las Vegas that the next version of Windows will run on ARM as well as Intel CPUs. But why? The reason is that ARM CPUs have huge momentum in mobile computing, thanks to their low power consumption. Microsoft wants Windows to support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures such as NVIDIA’s Tegra 2, which has two ARM Cortex-A9 CPUs combined with an HD-capable graphics processor in a single package. In its press release, the company is careful not to upset established x86/x64 partners Intel and AMD too much, emphasising that Windows will run on SoC packages based on those CPUs as well.

It is an interesting announcement, but one that raises as many questions as answers. The first concerns Microsoft’s mobile strategy, with Windows now seeming to encroach on territory that you have thought belonged to its embedded operating system, Windows CE, which underlies both Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7. With all its legacy APIs, full-blown Windows does not seem ideal for low-powered, resource-constrained mobile devices; yet the company seems set on bringing full Windows rather than something based on Windows Phone 7 to the emerging tablet market.

The second issue is that applications will need at least re-compiling, and in many cases some re-coding, in order to run on ARM CPUs. Microsoft says it will deliver Office for ARM:

Sinofsky: Microsoft Office is an important part of customers’ PC experience and ensuring it runs natively on ARM is a natural extension of our Windows commitment to SoC architectures.

Windows and Office alone is enough for a decent business device; but customers who buy Windows on ARM expecting their existing games or applications to run will be disappointed.

We have been here before. In the early days of Windows CE, devices ran a variety of processors such as MIPS or Hitachi SH3, and developers had to compile multiple binaries and create setups that installed the right one on each device. In an attempt to overcome the friction this created, Microsoft introduced the Common Executable Format (CEF) with Windows CE 3.0 in 2000. This was an intermediate language format which was translated to native code by a “translator” when it was installed onto a device.

It sounds  a bit like .NET or Java; and it was indeed a forerunner of the .NET Common Language Runtime, which appeared in 2002. However, CEF never really caught on. Although it solved deployment issues, it introduced performance problems and was troublesome to debug. Most developers preferred to stick with true native code.

Today though .NET is mature; and we also have Silverlight, a cross-platform implementation of the .NET Framework combined with multimedia player and graphics framework. If Microsoft includes .NET and Silverlight in its ARM build of Windows, that would solve some of the deployment problems, especially for business devices. Many custom applications are built for .NET; and these would in principle run without any need to recompile, since a .NET executable is intermediate code which is compiled to native code at runtime, though any code which includes “platform invoke” calls to native APIs would not work.

It is surprising therefore that neither .NET nor Silverlight is mentioned in Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s Q&A about Windows on ARM. Still, we should not read too much into that. It would be madness if Microsoft did not support its .NET technologies on this new platform, would it not?