updated 11:40 am EDT, Tue June 17, 2008
The Khronos Group late yesterday established a new alliance between vendors that could see standards for high performance computing such as OpenCL gain a foothold across many operating systems and hardware platforms. Called the Computer Working Group, the team includes graphics rivals 3DLabs, AMD, and NVIDIA, processor makers such as ARM, Freescale, Intel, and Qualcomm, and end product manufacturers such as Motorola and Nokia, all of whom hope to create and maintain genuinely open and royalty-free standards for using newer graphics hardware to process very demanding compute tasks.
The Working Group isn't limited to a specific standard but is likely to start with the OpenCL standard expected to appear in Mac OS X Snow Leopard. The format is now known to have been proposed by Apple and would let developers tap into both the unused resources for e video chipset as well as the multiple cores of a standard CPU to improve not just business tasks but also more common uses. A fast-enough system using OpenCL could accelerate physics in games or use it to boost image processing speeds, Khronos says.
The move potentially sets up OpenCL as a true standard and could give Macs and mainstream PCs access both to the inbuilt general computing performance of existing video chipsets as well as to imminent graphics and computing cards that are specifically tailored to these tasks. Both NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 200 series and AMD's still unofficial Radeon HD 4800 will both explicitly support non-video processing but are currently tied to proprietary languages that limit the incentive to accelerate specialized code.
OpenCL also potentially broadens the usefulness and operating system support of both AMD's FireStream and NVIDIA's Tesla add-in cards and servers, both of which transform graphics chipsets entirely into dedicated processors for workstation and supercomputer-level tasks.
While Khronos has not said if or when it expects OpenCL to be ratified as a standard by the members of the Computer Working Group, Apple itself plans to launch Snow Leopard in mid-2009 and effectively kick off public accessibility for the technology.