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GPU is the new CPU

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In the past, the CPU was king. But as games required more processing power, developers looked at ways to improve the GPU, to the point where it is now a mini server within the computer, writes BRIAN PEREIRA of Digital Creed.

The CPU (central processing unit) was king in the PC era. I remember the hotly contested race between two chipmakers (Intel and AMD) to make the fastest CPU. Megahertz was the metric for clock speed then and today it’s gigahertz. Using clever tricks like ‘Turbo mode’ the CPU clock speed could be further bumped up.  The math co-processor and graphics processing unit or GPU played second fiddle or sidekick roles. Recently, I attended the NVIDIA GTCx India 2016 conference in Mumbai, and was surprised to learn how the GPU has matured almost into a graphics server within the computer. In fact, there were demos showing how GPUs are much more efficient than CPUs in processing data. The GPU has cut down processing time significantly, and many real-life applications across industries have benefitted. I will talk about some examples later in this post. But first, let’s get into a time machine and go back to the 90s to see how GPUs evolved.

As gaming software got more defined (realism) and monitor resolutions improved, more power and more memory were needed to process all those mathematical equations that generate those stunning graphics. The CPU (and its IBM PC architecture) could not keep up. Hence we witnessed the emergence of graphics cards. My earliest memory of one is the Hercules Graphics Card. Later we had CGA, VGA, and XGA versions. These graphics cards were mounted in expansion slots on the motherboard.

With better graphics came better sound. There was demand for surround sound on PCs, and multi-speaker systems became available (my favourite ones were manufactured by a company called Creative Technologies). Again, the CPU could not process the complex sound algorithms for surround sound, and hence we got sound cards with onboard sound processors and Digital to Analog (DAC) converters. Back to graphics.

Today’s graphics cards have so much power and memory, they would give a 1990s PC a complex. Sample this: The NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card has 2560 CUDA cores, a base clock speed of 1607 MHz, 8GB memory and it consumes 180W of power! If your geekiness makes you curious about CUDA you can read more about it here. Essentially, CUDA is a parallel computing platform and programming model that adapts a GPU for general computing.

And because of the sheer power that today’s GPUs have, they are transforming everything from deep learning and AI to visual computing, high performance computing (HPC) and VR.

Demos & Examples

Walking along the exhibit area at GTCx India 2016 I was thrilled to discover a number of interesting examples. Apart from the various startups showing some amazing demos, there was also a special zone called VR Village.

I was lucky to experience an interactive model of the Bank of England building that was destroyed in 1920. The lobby of the bank was recreated using an interactive model, photo-realistically rendered using NVIDIA’s Iray VR software.

When the HTC Vive VR headset was placed on my head, I was stunned with what I saw. It looked like I was in the deserted lobby of the bank in the early morning hours. The sun’s rays filtered through the glass dome in the atrium.  I looked up and saw the gold gilded edges on the ceiling reflecting the sunlight at just the right angles, relative to my viewing angle. Shadows were created around the grooves and niches on the elegant statues placed around the lobby. And as I walked around or rotated my head, the shadows changed in relation to  changing viewing angles.

Later, as I walked around the exhibit area I visited some of the stalls and witnessed some demos. EDGE Networks has been using the power of GPU processing for a business application. Interestingly, they use data science and AI for workforce transformation and an HR application. I spoke to Rahul Kulhari, their Lead Data Scientist. He told me that their talent acquisition app scans through thousands of resumes and filters candidates based on skills and experience that match a job description. This kind of processing used to take days to complete with a CPU. But now, with the power of a GPU it takes only a few hours.

I sat through an interesting presentation by Mandar Kulkarni, Head Automotive CAE, TCS. He spoke about some product development challenges and how GPUs and HPC have helped cut down production time and cost in automotive manufacturing.

“Earlier we had to make 100 prototypes of an engine and test each prototype. So development used to take years. But now we create virtual prototypes and do various simulations on the models. There are 500 types of simulations for every car — all the components have to be tested. We even do simulations on the coffee cup holder on the dash,” said Kulkarni.

The various simulation include vehicle crash, external aerodynamics, and aero acoustic analysis (to name a few). And billions of equations must be solved to create these simulations. This is only possible through parallel processing and HPC — which a modern GPU can perform.

There are numerous other examples and demos I can describe here to show the power of GPU, but that’s going to make this post a lot longer than I expected! So I will write about these separately in future posts.

I met and interviewed Greg Estes, Vice President, Enterprise Marketing, NVIDIA. Lookout for the interview that I’ll post on this site very soon.

* Brian Pereira has been tracking technology since 1989. He is the former editor of CHIP and InfomationWeek magazines in India. He now blogs at www.digitalcreed.in

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Acer gaming beast escapes

Acer this week unveiled two notebooks that take portable gaming to new extremes.

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Acer  unveiled two new Predator Helios gaming notebooks this week at the next@acer global press conference in New York. They include the powerful Predator Helios 500, featuring up to 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors, and the Predator Helios 300 Special Edition that includes upgraded specs from its predecessor and a distinctive white chassis. Both feature VR-Ready performance, advanced thermal technologies, and blazing-fast connectivity.

“We’ve expanded our Predator Helios gaming notebook line in response to popular demand from gamers seeking extreme performance on the go,” said Jerry Kao, President of IT Products Business, Acer. “The Predator Helios 500 and Helios 300 gaming notebooks feature Acer’s proprietary thermal technologies and powerful components that, coupled with our award-winning software, deliver unparalleled gaming experiences.”

“The 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processor for gaming and creation laptops is the highest performance Intel has ever delivered for this class of devices; purpose built for enthusiasts who demand premium gaming experiences whether at home or on the go,” said Steve Long, Vice President and General Manager, Client Computing Group Sales and Marketing, Intel. “Intel and Acer’s long relationship has produced amazing products over the years, and the new Acer Predator Helios gaming notebooks are powerful examples of what’s possible with this unprecedented level of performance.”

Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast featuring overclocking, 4K 144 Hz panels

Designed for extreme gamers, the Predator Helios 500 is a gaming beast. It features up to overclockable 8th Gen Intel Core i9+ processors and overclockable GeForce GTX 1070 graphics. Intel Optane memory increases responsiveness and load times, while ultra-fast NVMePCIe SSDs, Killer DoubleShot Pro networking, and up to 64GB of memory keep the action going, making the Helios 500 the ideal gaming notebook for graphic-intensive AAA titles and live streaming.

Top-notch visuals are delivered on bright, vibrant 4K UHD or FHD IPS 17.3-inch displays with 144Hz refresh rates for blur- and tear-free gameplay. NVIDIA G-SYNC technology is supported on both the built-in display and external monitors, allowing for buttery-smooth imagery without tearing or stuttering. For those looking for maximum gaming immersion, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and display and HDMI 2.0 ports support up to three external monitors. Two speakers, a subwoofer, and Acer TrueHarmony and Waves MAXXAudio technology deliver incredible sound and hyper-realistic 3D audio using Waves Nx.

The Helios 500 stays cool with two of Acer’s proprietary AeroBlade 3D metal fans, and five heat pipes that distribute cool air to the machine’s key components while simultaneously releasing hot air. Fan speed can be controlled and customized through the PredatorSense app.

A backlit RGB keyboard offers four lighting zones with support for up to 16.8 million colors. Anti-ghosting technology provides the ultimate control for executing complex commands and combos, which can be set up via five dedicated programmable keys.

Acer’s PredatorSense app can be used to control and monitor the notebook’s vitals from one central interface, including overclocking, lighting, hotkeys, temperature, and fan control.

Predator Helios 300 Special Edition brings a sophisticated design twist to gaming notebooks

Acer’s budget-friendly Helios 300 gaming line sees the addition of a Special Edition model featuring an all-white aluminum chassis accented with gold trim, an unusually chic design for gaming notebooks.

The Helios 300 Special Edition (PH315-51) allows for ultra-smooth gameplay via its 15.6-inch FHD IPS display with an upgraded 144Hz refresh rate. The rapid refresh rate shortens frame rendering time and lowers input lag to give gamers an excellent in-game experience. It’s powered by up to an 8th Gen Intel Core i7+ processor, overclockable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics, up to a 512 GB PCIe Gen 3 NVMe solid state drive, and up to a 2 TB hard disk drive.

The Helios 300 Special Edition also comes equipped with up to 16 GB of DDR4 memory, and is upgradable to 32GB. Intel Optane memory speeds up load times of games and applications, access to information and improves overall system responsiveness. In addition, Gigabit Ethernet provides fast wired connections, while Gigabit Wi-Fi is provided by the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 that delivers up to 1.73Gbps throughput when using 160 MHz channels (2×2 802.11ac, dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz).

The Helios 300 Special Edition also includes two of Acer’s ultrathin (0.1 mm) all-metal AeroBlade 3D fans designed with advanced aerodynamics and superior airflow to keep the system cool. They can be controlled with Acer’s PredatorSense app, which offers three usage modes:

1. Coolboost mode:

For heavy loading games, rendering, streaming, and extended video consumption

2. Normal mode:

For productivity tools like Microsoft Office

3. Silent mode:

For web browsing and online chatting

Price and Availability

Predator Helios 500 will be available in South Africa in June starting at R34 999.00

Helios 300 Special Edition will be available in South Africa in August 2018. Exact Price will be communicated closer to the time.

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LG G7 arrives in SA

LG this week introduced South Africa to its latest premium smartphone, the LG G7 ThinQ, focused on bringing useful and convenient AI features to the smartphone experience.

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Powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform, the LG G7 ThinQ offers 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage to run demanding tasks and apps with. It is equipped with a 6.1-inch Super Bright Display, but the LG G7 ThinQ remains compact enough to use with one hand.

Sporting a new design aesthetic for the G series, the polished metal rim gives the LG G7 ThinQ a sleeker, more refined look, complemented by Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and the back for enhanced durability. Rated IP68 for dust and water resistance, the LG G7 ThinQ is also awarded MIL-STD 810 c certification, having been subjected to a range of extreme temperature and environment tests designed by the United States military.

The LG G7 ThinQ has an 8MP camera up front, rendering clear and natural selfies, with two 16MP cameras at the back that deliver higher resolution photos with more detail, as well as a Super Wide Angle configuration.

As with other leading brands, LG has evolved its signature camera by including AI functionality. The AI CAM offers 19 shooting modes for intelligence-optimised shots. Users can also improve their photos by choosing from an additional three effect options should the AI CAM recommendation not suit their taste.

The new Super Bright Camera captures images that are up to four times brighter than typical photos shot in dim light. Through the combination of pixel binning and software processing, the AI algorithm adjusts the camera settings automatically when shooting in low light.

Live Photo Mode records one second before and after the shutter is pressed for snippets of unexpected moments or expressions that would normally be missed. Stickers uses face recognition to generate fun 2D and 3D overlays, such as sunglasses and headbands, that can be viewed directly on the display.

New to the G series is Portrait Mode, which generates professional-looking shots with out-of-focus backgrounds. This effect can be generated using both front and rear standard lenses as well as the rear Super Wide Angle lens.

LG G7 ThinQ offers further AI functionality with the inclusion of Google Lens features. Google Lens is a new way to search using the AI and computer vision. Google Assistant and Google Photos allow users to access more information on objects such as landmarks, plants, animals, and books. It can identify text or visit websites, add business cards to contacts, events to the calendar or look up an item on a restaurant menu.

A button just below the volume keys launches the AI functionality. A single tap of this button launches the Google Assistant, while two quick taps launches Google Lens. Users can also hold down the button to start talking to the Google Assistant without the repetition of the OK Google command.

With Super Far Field Voice Recognition (SFFVR) and the highly-sensitive G7ThinQ microphone, the Google Assistant can recognise voice commands from up to five meters away. SFFVR is able to separate commands from background noise, making the LG G7 ThinQ an alternative to a home AI speaker, even when the TV is on. Commands for the Google Assistant have been increased in the LG G7 ThinQ so users can get more done with their voice alone.

“The LG G7 ThinQ is strongly focused on the fundamentals and its launch marks a new chapter for our company,” said Deon Prinsloo, General Manager for Mobile Communication, LG Electronics S.A Pty Ltd. “Through the combination of personalised and useful AI functionalities with meaningful smartphone features, this is LG’s most convenient and in the moment smartphone yet.”

Key Specifications

  • Mobile Platform: Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Mobile Platform
  • Display: 6.1-inch QHD+ 19.5:9 FullVision Super Bright Display (3120 x 1440 / 564ppi)
  • Memory:
    • LG G7 ThinQ: 4GB LPDDR4x RAM / 64GB UFS 2.1 ROM / MicroSD (up to 2TB)
  • Camera:
    • Rear Dual: 16MP Super Wide Angle (F1.9 / 107°) / 16MP Standard Angle (F1.6 / 71°)
    • Front: 8MP Wide Angle (F1.9 / 80°)
  • Battery: 3000mAh
  • OS: Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Size: 153.2 x 71.9 x 7.9mm
  • Weight: 162g
  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a, b, g, n, ac / Bluetooth 5.0 BLE / NFC / USB Type-C 2.0 (3.1 compatible)
  • Colours: New Aurora Black
  • Others: Super Bright Display / New Second Screen / AI CAM / Super Bright Camera / Super Far Field Voice Recognition / Boombox Speaker / Google Lens / AI Haptic / Hi-Fi Quad DAC / DTS:X 3D Surround Sound / IP68 Water and Dust Resistance / HDR10 / Google Assistant Key / Face Recognition / Fingerprint Sensor / Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 Technology / Wireless Charging / MIL-STD 810G Compliant / FM Radio
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