Wow. Nvidia announced this week that it will be making a PC CPU. Great way to start CES off with a bang (or is a shot heard round the Valley?). Although there have been rumors about this for a while, it is still an important announcement. Putting their weight fully behind the ARM instruction set, NVIDIA will combine their parallel processing GPU with a CPU to create another GPU/CPU combined architecture, perhaps similar in some ways to AMD’s Fusion. ARM utilizes ‘Reduced Instruction Set Computing’ (RISC), an approach to designing CPUs that restricts the operations that can be performed to ensure more efficiency (less power without a loss in speed). What I find interesting here is the emphasis on the ARM and what it means about NVIDIA’s belief that mobile, low-power devices, running massively parallel applications are important. I attended the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference last year and Jen-Hsun Huang didn’t keep his love of super phones and other contextual computing devices a secret and I have heard him point out that super phones have already surpassed the personal computer as the most important personal device.
It’s not yet clear from the NVIDIA Project Denver press release, but my guess is that the Tegra chip will play a central role. It seems that the new architecture will be focused on data centers and supercomputing applications, but will also take a run at general compute platforms like laptops. This places NVIDIA squarely in the crosshairs of the current high-performance x86 computing superpowers of Intel and AMD (who also own the entire laptop market).
It is hard to overstate how interesting this news is to me. In the past, I’ve had dinner with an NVIDIA Chief Scientist who spent most of the main course, dessert, and coffee trying to explain why stream processing, and data-local parallelism is the appropriate problem solving paradigm for computer science in general (thereby implying that the CPU would soon go the way of the math coprocessor). It seems thinking at NVIDIA has evolved to a more middle of the road approach.
Oh, and if you’re thinking, “None of this will matter to me until I’m willing to exchange my desktop workhorse for a smart phone or Miscrosoft supports the ARM.” Done. Microsoft announced a few days ago that it will be porting the next Windows release to the ARM instruction set.