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More (Computing) Power to the People February 26, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software platforms.
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The people with smartphones, that is.  I had an interesting conversation with someone a GPU provider NVIDIA last week (I had to wait until this week to post because part of the conversation was under nondisclosure).  At the Mobile World Congress in Spain last month, NVIDIA demonstrated a smartphone running on a quad-core ARM processor with an integrated GPU on an ASIC (how’s that for a mouthful of letters?  ASIC stands for Application-Specific Integrated Circuit, and is a more or less complete System on a Chip – SoC).

What this means is that a prototype phone now has about as much power as your two-year old laptop.  Further, the multiple cores provide for significant parallel computing opportunities, so that multiple applications, or parts of applications, can execute in parallel.  The inclusion of one or more GPU cores provides both fast graphics capability and computational horsepower.

ARM (it used to be Advanced RISC Machines, today the name appears to be simply ARM Holdings, Ltd.) has specialized in high-performance processors with low power consumption for embedded devices for at least fifteen years (I first encountered the company in 1996).  It is a so-called “fab-less” chip designer,

Intel was at one time involved in ARM development, through its acquisition of Digital Equipment Corporation’s StrongARM processor.  This became Intel’s XScale handheld processor line, which it ultimately sold off to Marvell so that it could concentrate on the Atom processor.

It’s also worthwhile noting that Microsoft has recently announced that it is porting Windows to the ARM processor.  Microsoft had given up on that game years ago (Windows NT was first available for x86, MIPS, and Alpha processors), so this seems to have some significance in the application of Windows to smaller, lower-powered devices.

The upshot is that you’re holding a full-fledged computer in your hand; if not now, then in a year or two.  What it lacks over the one on your desk is a general purpose input/output system (keyboard, mouse, and display) that is readily understood and used by most people.

This limitation has always held back phones and other mobile devices from general-purpose use.  As phones have gotten more powerful, we’ve been creative about the I/O system, and made phone into smartphones and into something still more and as-yet undefined.

What is power such as the quad-core ARM/GPU going to do to handheld computing?  I wish I knew.  I think it’s likely that the smartphone will become the personal communication and entertainment system.  Plug it into your car and listen to music and make calls.  Attach it to your TV and make video calls, or stream the latest movie.  Whatever the uses might be, we are about to embark on the next major revolution in computing, and the first since the introduction of the personal computer, over 30 years ago.

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Comments»

1. More (Computing) Power to the People - February 26, 2011

[…] because part of the conversation was under nondisclosure). At the Mobile World Congress in Spain… [full post] Peter Varhol Cutting Edge Computing software platforms 0 0 0 […]

2. Pro Blogger News - February 27, 2011

More Computing Power To The People…

[…]At the Mobile World Congres in Spain last month, NVIDIA demonstrated a smartphone runing on a quad-core ARM procesor[…]…

3. John Melonakos - February 27, 2011

at accelereyes, we’ve done experiments showing that the gpu chips are also capable of great compute, in the same way they are now used to compute on the desktop. we’re building libjacket for mobile, here: http://www.accelereyes.com/mobile

there is a lot of potential to process the sensor feeds on these devices for all sorts of apps. power to the people is right!


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