Remember when CPU processor speeds were the driving force behind new computers? Going from a 500 MHz to 1 GHz then 2 GHz machine meant noticeable improvements. Then chip vendors started adding more cores. But for the style of computing consumers use today, it’s not about the CPU anymore.
It’s all about graphics processors. Thanks to today’s visually intensive style of computing, a good GPU can improve the user experience much better than a fast CPU. In the data center certain tasks are moving from commodity CPU boxes to GPUs, meaning that over the next year or two, more of them will be sold for corporate computing use.However, since 2008, high electric bills and webscale data centers have increased demand for lower energy output, as opposed to more powerful processors, which led to companies from Facebook to Microsoft evaluating different low-energy processors such as Intel’s Atom chips or even ARM-based servers. Startups such as SeaMicro and Calxeda are also targeting the market, with Atom- and ARM-based servers, respectively. Those startups are bringing a different architecture to the data center, with each offering a cluster of low-power processors and their own custom chip to manage the communications between the multiple CPUs. It’s unclear if Nvidia has a partner to build the server, or if it has plans to adjust the server architecture to run its Project Denver chip, but the news here is more confirmation that the silicon business is getting far more interesting as the world demands more compute at lower power levels. Intel’s x86 crown is looking played out and upstarts are moving in. Using a widely licensed architecture from ARM opens the gate for more players to build chips, which could lead to different hardware architectures for different types of compute jobs. That has repercussions from the silicon all the way up to the way software is optimized to run on that silicon. Today we are living in a commodity compute world, but for how much longer? Related content from GigaOM Pro (subscription req’d):