Can OpenGL And OpenCL Overhaul Your Photo Editing Experience?

Fast Action Behind Still Photos

The processing loads common in video editing are well known; it doesn’t take more than a couple of 1080p tracks and a filter or two to soak up 100% of CPU resources in many systems. However, not as many people appreciate the significant compute burden imposed by modern digital photography workloads. Adding a sepia filter to an eight-megapixel (MP) image may be no big deal, but how about a complex blur to an 18 MP RAW image?

Even if your editing tasks don't swamp your CPU, they can still take a significant amount of time to execute, especially for multi-image batch jobs. More time means more waiting. For professionals, that translates to a loss of income. And pauses in your workflow prevent you from operating at the pace of your creativity, stopping you dead in your tracks. You want to edit as the creative options stream through your mind.

The object of the game, of course, is to devise new ways of getting more processing work done in less time. In two prior articles, we examined how modern GPUs, including those embedded within CPUs and APUs (compute engines with on-die graphics capabilities), can be leveraged by industry standard APIs to accelerate highly parallel operations within video post-processing and games. The same is now increasingly true within the world of photo editing.

Adobe, for example, has a long and impressive history of adopting hardware technologies that lend themselves well to accelerating media operations. The company has used OpenGL to accelerate certain functions through the GPU within Photoshop since version CS4, and such use has expanded with each subsequent release. Now, with the introduction of Photoshop CS6, the program opens its doors to OpenCL as a means to achieve even broader GPU-based acceleration.

Adobe is not alone. An intriguing but little-known photo workflow tool called Musemage now leverages OpenGL and OpenCL throughout its many workflow stages. The ever-popular open source photo editor GIMP now similarly employs these APIs in several areas. We also acquired a pre-release version of Corel’s AfterShot Pro, tweaked by Corel to bring early OpenCL support online specifically for our testing here.

We will test each of these applications across five system configurations and look for patterns in the results. How much does open standards-based GPU acceleration really help in these image-oriented tasks? Is there a difference in how much APUs and GPUs leverage accelerated features? Does acceleration scale evenly with graphics horsepower? Let’s find out.

  • ilysaml
    Now Adobe uses both CUDA and OpenCL that's superb.
  • alphaalphaalpha1
    Tahiti is pretty darned fast for compute, especially for the price of the 7900 cards, and if too many applications get proper OpenCL support, then Nvidia might be left behind for a lot of professional GPGPU work if they don't offer similar performance at a similar price point or some other incentive.

    With the 7970 meeting or beating much of the far more expensive Quadro line, Nvidia will have to step up. Maybe a GK114 or a cut-down GK110 will be put into use to counter 7900. I've already seen several forum threads talking about the 7970 being incredible in Maya and some other programs, but since I'm not a GPGPU compute expert, I guess I'm not in the best position to consider this topic on a very advanced level. Would anyone care to comment (or correct me if I made a mistake) about this?
  • A Bad Day
    How many CPUs would it take to match the tested GPUs?
  • blazorthon
    A Bad DayHow many CPUs would it take to match the tested GPUs?
    That would depend on the CPU.
  • esrever
    Would be interesting to compare the i7 ivybridge against trinity in openCL
  • mayankleoboy1
    why no nvidia cards here?
  • mayankleoboy1
    any CUDA vs OpenCL benchmarks?
  • de5_Roy
    can you test like these combos:
    core i5 + 7970
    core i5 hd4000
    trinity + 7970
    trinity apu
    core i7 + 7970
    and core i7 hd 4000, and compare against fx8150 (or piledriver) + 7970.
    it seemed to me as if the apu bottlenecks the 7970 and the 7970 could work better with an intel i5/i7 cpu on the graphical processing workloads.
  • vitornob
    Nvidia cards test please. People needs to know if it's better/faster to go OpenCL or CUDA.
  • bgaimur
    vitornobNvidia cards test please. People needs to know if it's better/faster to go OpenCL or CUDA.

    CUDA is a dying breed.