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by Mike Zazaian September 22, 2006 - 2:43pm, No Comments

A prototype of ATI's upcoming FireStream GPGPU card

ATI’s latest push for general purpose GPUs will allow software developers to harness GPU power for non-graphics applications.

The company has invited reporters to an event on September 29th in San Francisco in which ATI will release new information about A new class of processing known as Stream Computing Besides that, they haven’t said a word.

ATI’s cryptic Stream computing is a term that likely refers to GPU manufacturers opening up hardware and programming interfaces to allow open use of GPUs for their raw processing power, not just graphics processing abilities. ATI and nVidia have already allowed such uses of their processors for research purposes to universities including Stanford and the University of North Carolina.

Now it seems ATI is bringing GPGPU capabilities to the commercial market with FireStream, a new GPGPU that will likely be introduced at the upcoming show in San Francisco. The implementation of GPGPUs could have an enormous impact on the way computers utilize graphics processors, as currently most GPU horsepower packed in by graphics manufacturers goes unused unless a user is running graphics-intensive applications such as games or 3D modeling software. Implementation of GPGPUs could mean of 10x to 30x performance increases on a wide range of applications that are currently handled only by standard CPUs.

But it’s not only the power of the GPU that’s sought after by manufacturers, but also the way in which that power is achieved. Accoring to Mike Houston, a student at Standford’s graphics lab, GPUs pose a major advantage over standard processors in certain applications:

In the high performance market, we’ve been talking about symmetric multi-processor servers with maybe four or eight or 16 threads. On an ATI chip, you’re talking about 48 threads of simultaneous execution.

While little is known about ATI’s FireStream, writers at managed to get their hands on one through unknown means. Accoring to the site’s write-up about the FireStream:

The card is indeed based on R580 with a board layout nearly identical to the FireGL 7350 including the 1GB of ram. The box I saw contained only this card and a driver cd which had been burnt and was labeled as being a beta. Also, I found the label on the CD interesting: ‘FireStream Enterprise Stream Processor.’

When contacted a spokemsan for ATI confirmed the existence of the product, but said that ‘FireStream’ may not be its final name or branding. Either way, the move toward open-ended GPU computing, and a more closely-related CPU-GPU connection will serve as a gateway for potential combined CPU/GPU chips that will eventually come out of the AMD/ATI marriage. Maybe we’ll get to peek through that gateway at ATI’s press conference next week.

[via The Register]