Nvidia activates a supercomputer in your PC

Santa Clara (CA) - What does it take to transform your PC into a teraflop supercomputer? It may be less than you think - two graphics cards and programming know-how are enough to push your desktop PC's performance into a range that required 10,000 processors a decade ago.

Nvidia today released the first public beta of its CUDA, software developer kit, which so far has only been available to a limited number of developers. The company promises that the software will allow full access to the 128/96 cores of GeForce 8800 graphics cards and leverage their floating point capability, not only for graphics, but other applications that rely on number crunching performance as well.

The technology is compatible with 8800-series graphics cards, which are estimated to achieve a peak performance of about 520 GFlops, allowing consumers to build a teraflop system using Nvidia's SLI bridge. Andy Keane, general manager of professional products at Nvidia, told TG Daily that the CUDA kit is available to anyone interested, but it will take the knowledge of an "educated programmer" to tap the potential of the card. "Casual programming know-how won't be enough," Keane said. The technology is based on C-language and comes with what Nvidia claims is the first C compiler for the GPU.

Nvidia explained that CUDA "transcends the limitations of traditional GPU stream computing by extending the function of the GPU to address a wide range of mathematically-intensive problems." Mainstream applications aren't quite ready to take advantage of this additional horsepower, but according to Keane, CUDA may help to accelerate seismic model applications, financial model processing as well as fluid dynamics. He also imagines that graphics cards could simulate neuron cells, the behavior of cellphone waves and enable breakthroughs in the medical field: For example, the technology could pave the way to real-time x-rays, assisting doctors in what may soon be knows as 3D surgery. "There are applications that required one day to complete one task. We can do that now in 15 minutes, Keane said."

However, before CUDA and graphics will be able to enter the supercomputing space, there are still some hurdles the company has to take. Compared, for example, to traditional floating point accelerators such as Clearspeed's CSX600 boards, graphics cards are running on 32-bit and not 64-bit, providing only single-precision data capability - instead of the required double-precision capability. This limitation is also present in Intel's recently unveiled teraflop processor project. Keane told TG Daily that Nvidia graphics cards scheduled to launch later this year will go 64-bit and offer the double-precision feature.

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