How You Saved The World By Playing Overclocked Computer Games

If all you needed was a spreadsheet and Word, all computers would have an inch of dust on them and would have yellowed to the color of smoker's teeth. But computer gamers were never satisfied. They demanded ever more powerful GPUs to run their games. And now a funny thing has happened: GPUs are more powerful than CPUs.

At the SuperComputing 2006 conference next week in Tampa, Florida, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will release benchmark tests showing how specialized graphics processing units, or GPUs, developed for the games industry over the past few years compare with all-purpose central processing units, or CPUs, that currently bear the brunt of most computing tasks. The lab tests come amid growing efforts to harness the GPU for general high-performance computing, and the UNC paper promises to be something of a showstopper at the weeklong gathering of the supercomputing elite: According to the Chapel Hill team, a low-cost parallel data processing GPU system can conservatively surpass the latest CPU-based systems by two to five times in a wide variety of tasks.

ATI and Nvidia keep the workings of their chips secret, so the researchers have to try hit and miss methods to determine how to get the GPUs to perform some functions. But the potential for price/performance breakthroughs using GPU architecture might make them open up their vaults. And vault past CPU manufacturers

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