HSA Foundation And AMD Hit 1.0 Release Milestone For Efficient Heterogeneous System Architecture

The Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation is making waves this week with the announcement of the HSA Specification v1.0. The HSA 1.0 spec is aimed at ushering in a new wave of heterogeneous computing devices that efficiently harness the power of both CPUs and GPUs.

HSA is not only destined to impact high-performance computing (HPC) and desktop platforms — as one would expect — it will also impact mobile devices including smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. HSA will make it easier for programmers to “efficiently apply the hardware resources in today’s complex systems-on-chip (SOCs),” including tapping directly into the GPU.

Through the use of “heterogeneous queuing,” GPUs will be given the same “rights” as CPUs when it comes to accessing data. As a result, an application that could easily access the GPU for compute operations wouldn’t have to wait for the CPU to finish its current task. In some tasks, the HSA is looking at roughly a 4x uplift in performance when moving from the CPU to parallel operations using the GPU.


“Through HSA, we are working to ensure that end-users of technology live in a world of new, incredible applications that run fast at low power,” said Phil Rogers, president of the HSA Foundation. “The Foundation members have been collaborating on this project since we joined together in June 2012, and we are thrilled to be delivering the fruit of that labor today.”

The fully ratified HSA 1.0 spec including the following core elements:

  • The HSA System Architecture Specification defines how the hardware operates
  • The HSA Programmers Reference Manual that targets the software ecosystem tool and compiler developers
  • The HSA Runtime Specification that defines how applications interact with HSA platforms

HSA 1.0 will be compliant with high-level programming languages like C++, Java, Python, and C/Fortran wrappers. HSA 1.0 is also hardware agnostic, meaning that processor architectures like ARM, MIPs, and x86 are fully supported. Speaking of which, AMD’s Carrizo architecture is the world’s first APU platform will fully HSA 1.0 compliance. Interestingly enough, Kaveri is compatible with some aspects of the final HSA 1.0 spec, but only Carrizo gets the full seal of approval.

“HSA 1.0 is an idea whose time has come. It gives developers easier access to the power-efficient performance on today’s rich SoCs than ever before, freeing them to find creative solutions to computes toughest challenges,” explains AMD Corporate VP Manju Hegde. “AMD intends to bring processors which incorporate the architecture described in the specification to market in 2015 and help lead the industry into the new era of heterogeneous computing.”

Founding members of the HSA Foundation include AMD (of course), ARM, Imagination Technologies, LG Electronics, MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Samsung. Some big name contributors include Oracle, Toshiba, Sony, Ubuntu, Broadcom, Marvell, Texas Instruments, and Huawei.

Not surprisingly, neither Intel nor NVIDIA have expressed interest in adopting HSA, despite that fact that Rogers contacts the companies at least once a year to check in. As for Apple, fahgettaboutit!

As for what we can expect to see in future versions of the HSA spec, we were told during our pre-briefing that a 1.1 spec is currently underway that will tackle developing and publishing both Debugging and Profiling APIs. HSA 1.1 will also be 100 percent backwards compatible with the 1.0 spec.