AMD's CTO talks heterogeneous systems architecture

January 30, 2012

SylvieBarak-January 30, 2012

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Making parallel computing easy to program for and enabling software engineers to let their imaginations run wild is AMD's new holy grail according to Joe Macri, corporate vice president and CTO of the firm's Client Division.

Speaking at DesignCon in Santa Clara Monday (Jan. 30), Macri said AMD engineers were working towards making the processing capability of the company's accelerated processing units (APUs) as accessible to programmers as the CPU is today using heterogeneous systems architecture (HSA).

HSA, said Macri, would combine scalar processing on CPU with parallel processing on the GPU, while offering high bandwidth access to memory at lower power. At the same time, Macri explained that the hardware needed to be easier to program, easier to optimize and easier to load balance--a wishlist that could prove challenging.

Though it seems like a potentially tall order, however, Macri said hardware developers did not "reinvent the wheel every time," noting that there was 40 odd years of experience to build from to create a cohesive system that works, with the ultimate goal of building an architecture that can scale up and down.

Rethinking the approach to hardware, said Macri, would allow software developers to act more freely, using the hardware as a canvas. "Software engineers are the Michelangelo’s of today," he said, adding that AMD’s goal with HSA architecture was to let the software developers focus on their vision.

"If their vision gets chipped away by the hardware, their vision goes away," he said.

Of course, the compute "vision" is always undergoing a series of changes and most recently, even the way we interact with computers is changing, with things like gesture technology coming to the fore.

"You need fixed function lower power and to immerse people in the experience," said Macri, noting that doing so would take incredible amounts of parallelism.

The APU, AMD’s fusion of the CPU and GPU on a single chip, is just the beginning, said Macri, adding that HSA was the APU’s future, and one he hoped would fast become an industry standard.

"Standards bring a whole ecosystem together, brings competitors together, allows them to compete on an even playing field," he said, explaining that AMD was really pushing for open and de-facto standards the whole industry could use.

"Open standards always win over time," Macri said, explaining that it simply makes sense because software developers want their applications to run on multiple platforms from multiple hardware vendors.

The way Macri sees the "architected era" includes full C++ and using the GPU as a co-processor. It also involves having unified coherent address space, task parallel runtimes, nested data parallel programs, user mode dispatch, pre-emption and context switching.

"Every single device we build today is constrained to a certain amount of power so dynamic power balance is crucial," he added.

Likewise, allowing the GPU to use addressable memory is important going forward, Macri said. Coherency, though it won't make anything go faster, will allow software developer to stay true to their vision, he added.

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