Intel: 2-year-old Nvidia GPU outperforms 3.2GHz Core i7

Intel researchers set out to disprove GPUs are more powerful than CPUs by factor of 100

By Sumner Lemon, IDG News Service |  Hardware

Intel researchers have published the results of a performance comparison between their latest quad-core Core i7 processor and a two-year-old Nvidia graphics card, and found that the Intel processor can't match the graphics chip's parallel processing performance.

On average, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 -- released in June 2008 -- was 2.5 times faster than the Intel 3.2GHz Core i7 960 processor, and more than 14 times faster under certain circumstances, the Intel researchers reported in the paper, called "Debunking the 100x GPU vs. CPU myth: An evaluation of throughput computing on CPU and GPU."

In a bid to discredit claims that GPUs outperform Intel's processors by a factor of 100, researchers compared the performance of the quad-core Core i7 processor with the Nvidia GPU running a set of 14 throughput computing kernels. The comparison was designed to test the parallel processing capabilities of the chips.

As its name suggests, parallel processing involves tackling multiple tasks simultaneously as opposed to serial processing, which requires handling tasks in sequential order.

Graphics chips, with dozens of cores that are used to draw polygons and map textures used to create realistic images on a computer screen, are well-adapted to parallel processing tasks while processors with fewer, more powerful cores, like the Core i7, are better suited for serial processing applications. That's not to say that quad-core chips like the Core i7 can't handle parallel processing tasks; they can, just not as well as GPUs like the GTX280, as the Intel study confirmed.

"It's a rare day in the world of technology when a company you compete with stands up at an important conference and declares that your technology is only up to 14 times faster than theirs," wrote Andy Keane, Nvidia's general manager of GPU computing, on the company's blog, which provided a link to the Intel paper.

Even so, Keane wasn't impressed by the performance margin reported by Intel, listing 10 Nvidia customers that saw application performance improve by a factor of 100 or more by optimizing them to run on GPUs. The performance comparison done by Intel likely did not include the software optimization required to get the best performance from the GPU, he said, noting that Intel didn't provide details of the software code used in the comparison.

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