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GPU Powered Macs and iPhones

Architosh points us to a Guardian.co.uk article from last week which details the upcoming trend of using GPUs (graphics processors) for day to day computing. As they point out, if you have a computer with either an ATI or nVidia graphics card, chances are you have more than 100 microprocessor cores waiting for use. While these cores have been optimized to deliver high performance graphics for games and video, there's an effort to harness these processors for general use.

Those GPU cores are the piranhas of processing. Because there are so many of them, they can chomp through tens of gigabytes of data in a second. But it has to be the right kind of data - something that can be parcelled up and delivered in bite-sized chunks to each core. In many cases, almost as soon as they have started working, the GPU piranhas will be waiting for the next chunk of meat. Managing that is hard and often it is just easier for a developer to have all the software run on a regular CPU.

Due to their specialized function, some tasks are better suited for GPU use. So far, research has focused on scientific tasks such as weather predictions, but there are efforts to standardize this programming.

Most industry support is focused around Apple's OpenCL specification which they announced will be coming in the next major version of Mac OS X ("Snow Leopard"). Of course, not everyone is behind the initiative. As usual, Microsoft seems to have their own plans, and been involved in their own research on GPU computing.

Michael Dimelow, director of marketing for media processing at ARM, said: "I don't think Microsoft will be sitting and watching. I would never underestimate Microsoft's ability to come up with alternative positions."

Also relevant to Apple's recent mobile phone push is the fact that GPUs may provide handheld devices with extra computing power with less power consumption. According to the president of Khronos, GPUs can be 10 times more power-efficient than using a CPU. This can improve both video and audio performance on mobile devices.

Since the iPhone shares the underlying OS X codebase, these upcoming improvements in Mac OS X should trickle down to benefit the iPhone.