Evolution of the Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

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Graphics processing units (GPUs) power today’s fastest supercomputers, are the dominant platform for deep learning, and provide the intelligence for devices ranging from self-driving cars to robots and smart cameras. They also generate compelling photorealistic images at real-time frame rates. GPUs have evolved by adding features to support new use cases. NVIDIA’s GeForce 256, the first GPU, was a dedicated processor for real-time graphics, an application that demands large amounts of floating-point arithmetic for vertex and fragment shading computations and high memory bandwidth. As real-time graphics advanced, GPUs became programmable. The combination of programmability and floating-point performance made GPUs attractive for running scientific applications. Scientists found ways to use early programmable GPUs by casting their calculations as vertex and fragment shaders. GPUs evolved to meet the needs of scientific users by adding hardware for simpler programming, double-precision floating-point arithmetic, and resilience.


David B. Kirk (NVIDIA)

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