ATI Stream: Finally, CUDA Has Competition

In AMD’s Words

You don’t have to spend much time in the GPGPU space, and with the ATI Stream relaunch in specific, before a lot of questions start springing to mind. Several members of AMD’s ATI team were kind enough to field several of my tactless queries with patience and detail. What follows are the high points of this conversation.

Tom's Hardware: Stream’s software (then known as CTM, or close-to-metal) was announced in November 2006. We didn’t see the technology implemented in Catalyst until December 2008, and the 9.5 hotfix brings us to May of 2009. This seems like an unusually long time scale for full deployment.

AMD: I will try to provide some clarification and precision on the different components.

ATI Stream refers to the GPGPU framework (or environment) in both hardware and software, including acceleration of tasks outside the usual game rendering or regular video playback acceleration.

There are two components to ATI Stream: the development environment, which includes a high level language called Brook+, and the runtime component, called Compute Abstraction Layer (CAL). CAL is what has been unified with since the Catalyst drivers of December 2008. Prior to December 2008, there were two separate drivers, one with CAL and one with just the regular Catalyst display drivers. Most ATI Stream applications before the end of 2008 were commercial, such as high performance computing (HPC), oil and gas, academic research, and enterprise video conferencing. These didn’t require regular driver updates as they operated in very stable environments, both for hardware (FireStream) and software.

The reason for unifying the drivers was to put in place the infrastructure for consumers to take advantage of ATI Stream on regular ATI Radeon graphics. As you can see, we’ve had a natural transition from high performance computing to mainstream applications since 2006. Also, ATI Stream drivers also work without major issues for these commercial applications. GPGPU is a new programming model that required not only a drivers infrastructure but also the education of ISVs and developers at the scale of the PC industry to take advantage of it.

The same way we expect a natural transition of the industry to OpenCL & DirectX 11 compute shaders by the end of 2009 to 2010, as developers and ISVs will have programming languages and APIs that are hardware agnostic, which makes is less costly to develop and easier to maintain their code.

As for the span from last December to this May, the reason it took us several months to come up with an update is that our software teams targeted work that is beyond just fixing an application (ATI Video Converter). They were enabling a new transcoding framework in ATI Stream. The work was a joint effort between different teams in Toronto and Silicon Valley, in addition to working closely with our partner CyberLink in Taipei. All of that had to happen while ensuring the stability of the drivers. It was a big task considering the impact that each change can have on stability.

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  • Spanky Deluxe
    Stream and CUDA are likely to go the way of the dodo soon though. OpenCL's where its at. Unfortunately its a tad hard to get programming with it right now since you need to be a registered developer on nVidia's Early Access Program or you have to be a registered developer with Apple's developer program with access to pre-release copies of Snow Leopard.
    Virtually no one will bother using CUDA or Steam after OpenCL's out - why limit yourself to one hardware base after all? It'd be like writing Windows software that only ran on AMD processors and not Intel. Developers will not bother writing for both when they can just use one language that can run on both hardware platforms.
    12
  • Other Comments
  • radiowars
    So..... TBH they both work pretty well, I hope that we don't start a whole competition over this.
    0
  • falchard
    Did someone necro an old topic? I think ATI has been talking about ATI Stream for a while. I know atleast a year since FireStream.
    -7
  • cl_spdhax1
    arcsoft simhd plugin is currently only enabled for n- cuda graphic cards.
    0
  • Andraxxus
    They're good but hopefully they will manage to improve them more. Competition is good for business.
    2
  • DjEaZy
    ... why just now talk about? I use it sins Catalyst 8.12...
    -7
  • IzzyCraft
    Stream is old but not nearly as old and compatible as CUDA I'd get it a year or two more when more capable cards circulate the market and trickle down to the people before i would call it competition.

    Well it's good to see more then just 1 app that supports it.
    0
  • ThisIsMe
    Just for the sake of it, and the fact that many pros would like to know the result, it would be nice to see comparisons like this using nVidia's Quadro cards vs. ATI's FirePro cards.
    7
  • ohim
    why use 185.85 since those drivers are a total wreck

    http://forums.nvidia.com/index.php?showtopic=96665&st=0&start=0

    13 pages with ppl having different problems with that driver
    -4
  • Anonymous
    I think the second graph on the "Mixed Messages" page isn't the right graph.

    It's the same graph from the following "Heavier Lifting" page instead of a graph for the 298MB VOB file that should be shown?
    0
  • Spanky Deluxe
    Stream and CUDA are likely to go the way of the dodo soon though. OpenCL's where its at. Unfortunately its a tad hard to get programming with it right now since you need to be a registered developer on nVidia's Early Access Program or you have to be a registered developer with Apple's developer program with access to pre-release copies of Snow Leopard.
    Virtually no one will bother using CUDA or Steam after OpenCL's out - why limit yourself to one hardware base after all? It'd be like writing Windows software that only ran on AMD processors and not Intel. Developers will not bother writing for both when they can just use one language that can run on both hardware platforms.
    12
  • wasteoftime
    How come Folding is not something you guys ever cover in your CUDA comparisons. The main reason I left an ati card and bought an nvidia was the huge increase in my ppd.
    -2
  • armistitiu
    wasteoftimeHow come Folding is not something you guys ever cover in your CUDA comparisons. The main reason I left an ati card and bought an nvidia was the huge increase in my ppd.

    Yeah...that's just what i want from a GPU : Folding@Home. I find video transcoding to be a more 'useful' way of using you GPU.
    Nice article. Haven't seen one in a long time.
    5
  • thejerk
    why did i feel the expresso "overview" page was an embedded advertisement?
    -2
  • sailer
    wasteoftimeHow come Folding is not something you guys ever cover in your CUDA comparisons. The main reason I left an ati card and bought an nvidia was the huge increase in my ppd.


    I agree. The last three cards that I bought were Nvidia cards, based solely on their folding performance. When gaming, I prefer an ATI card. Oh yeah, I have four computers, three using Nvidia cards for folding and one with an ATI card for gaming. I think it would be great if the reviews included Folding@Home performance. It might also encourage ATI to make cards that did better for folding.
    0
  • astrotrain1000
    Anandtech was saying that the output quality from ATI wasn't very good, but I didn't see any mention of it here. Can anyone confirm or deny, I have a 4870 but I'd like to know how the output quality is before I buy Expresso.
    0
  • nickcardwell
    I have used newer cards from both Nvidia and ATI, I also love my Mac. I would really like to see OpenCL take off. It's cross platform with Nvidia and ATI on both Mac and PC. That to me would end the CUDA / Stream war and bring it back to simply who builds the better GPU.
    0
  • thejerk
    "Final score: AMD 3, Nvidia 4. However, I’m going to call this a tie..."

    It actually IS a tie. You awarded NVidia a point for not offering an option for WMV encoding,
    even though performance showed a very slight, but measurable, increase with Stream enabled.

    You didn't give credit where credit was due. Do it right the next time.
    0
  • lire210
    the gpu looks a bit weak on the ati side. when was the gtx 280 ever ment to go head to head with a hd4870. i would like to suggest a hd4890 for da job bit more even. that is if we are going on who drivers are better which seems to be more of the focus considering the lack of hardware evenness.
    0
  • JPForums
    There is no mention of how good the output quality is. How does it compare to the source? How does it compare to nVidia?
    -1
  • williamvw
    Hey, all. Many thanks for the initial feedback. A few notes:

    1. I would have loved to test with the Folding@home app. I actually tried to when doing the former CUDA-on-a-budget article. However, I quickly discovered that the results were meaningless because the work loads varied too much. NVIDIA helped solve this problem by creating a series of batch files for SETI@home that used a common work load, and that's what you see in the article. However, there is no such tool that I know of for Folding@home and AMD/ATI has not released an equivalent set of testing tools for SETI@home.

    2. I count seven charts -- 4 to 3. I did give the better coding point to NVIDIA on page 7. NVIDIA has 0 points on page 6 and two points by the end of page 7. :-)

    3. The side-by-side captures you see in the later article pages show samples of Stream vs. CUDA output. These are taken from GPU-accelerated output files. To my eye, they look almost identical, but I offer them up for you to make your own judgments. I would say that the output quality issues that plagued Stream's initial launch have been remedied.

    4. Yes, I agree that, ultimately, OpenCL and DirectX 11 will lay the entire Stream/CUDA issue to rest. But that's someday. For now, this article's purpose was to take a look at today's technology.

    5. I tested with an HD 4890, not a 4870. Apologies if there are any typos to the contrary.

    6. There is no behind-the-scenes money changing hands that resulted in my page detailing CyberLink Espresso. I developed that page for two reasons. First, as I mentioned, Espresso is the ONLY application today with even support for both Stream and CUDA, so it made sense to me that many people might want to buy it because of its agnostic support -- and it's a great tool. Second, in part because of this agnosticism, CyberLink has been immensely helpful to me in writing this article in a fair, even-minded, and accurate manner. The company helped me through many nights, often maintaining email dialogues well past midnight. So forgive me for being enthusiastic about the product. If CyberLink's customer support is even half its press support, I think you'll be pleased.
    3