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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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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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