The OpenCL programming framework is a relative newcomer to the computing scene. This open computing language -- published by the who's-who-of-technology Khronos consortium, which includes everyone from the Los Alamos National Labs to IBM (NYSE: IBM ) and Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) -- helps programmers take full advantage of today’s increasingly powerful but also more complex processors.
The technology taps into the power of both graphics cards from NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA ) and AMD's ATI unit, and the central processors made by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) and AMD. This way, you can take a load off your poor overworked processor by sending some work to the graphics processor instead -- or simply take better advantage of the multicore features that give modern processors their power. In short, OpenCL should make computers more efficient by better utilizing their resources.
Yesterday, AMD released the first development framework for running OpenCL work on the central processor. The drivers will work on any reasonably modern processor from AMD or Intel. Intel is also part of the Khronos group, but it hasn't submitted an OpenCL development platform yet.
AMD’s OpenCL implementation should work across Linux and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows platforms today. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is adding OpenCL support to the upcoming Snow Leopard version of Mac OS X. The industry is rallying behind the OpenCL platform.
And nobody benefits more than AMD. That's probably why the company put some extra coals on the fire and beat its rivals to market with a processor OpenCL toolkit.
NVIDIA can leverage OpenCL to make its graphics processors more useful to the end user, and Intel has plenty of central processors with multiple processor cores. But AMD gets both sides of the coin -- uniquely so, until Intel gets around to releasing its Larrabee graphics product. And don't forget that the Istanbul-class processor comes with six processor cores -- 50% more cores than the biggest, baddest four-core Nehalem processors Intel currently offers.
Now let's see how AMD leverages this temporary set of unique advantages before the other guys catch up. If the company plays its cards right, workstations with Istanbul processors and ATI graphics, all tied together into an ultra-efficient computing powerhouse by AMD’s own OpenCL drivers, could become the standard for certain math-intensive tasks.
It’s AMD’s Fusion strategy in full force, wherein AMD markets itself as the premium provider of both graphics and central processing products. This is not to be confused with the perennially delayed Fusion product that will put graphics processors right inside the central processor -- one chip, multiple functions.
Fusion confusion, indeed. But the strategy is still sound, and a real selling point for AMD’s products.