You probably use a computer every day, but have you ever wondered what are the building blocks of your device? Let us provide you with a quick overview of how computer architecture evolved over the years and how it will look like in the near future.
CPU or Central Processing Unit or Microprocessor
System memory or Main Memory or DDR.
Southbridge, a hub for such peripherals as keyboard, mouse, printer, hard drive, Ethernet, USB and audio.
Video card or Graphics card houses Graphics memory or GDDR and GPU
IGP or Integrated Graphics Processor combines GPU and Northbridge
APU or Accelerated Processing Unit combines CPU and GPU
SoC or System on a chip combines APU and Southbridge
In the old days of computers, we thought of the CPU as the ‘brain of the computer’. The reason for that is very simple – CPUs did the logical operations.
In this era, many people measured a computer’s speed by the clock rate (usually in MHz or GHz). However, as the computer architecture evolved this metric became less relevant as performance can be affected by a very wide range of design choices — number of cores in the CPU, bus speeds, available memory and so on.
At this time, GPUs were mostly good for displaying the image on the screen, but not much more.
Due to it’s high power consumption and high performance, this architecture was mostly used in Tower Desktops.
About 10-15 years ago, 3 significant things happened:
1. As the popularity of the games grew, GPUs got much more powerful in order to be able render 3D images i.e. play 3D games.
2. IGP was introduced as the result of integrating a graphics processor with the northbridge chip. IGPs had a part of system memory dedicated to the graphics inside of it. IGPs could work together with graphics cards (now called Discrete Graphics cards or dGPUs) for additional performance.
3. 64-bit architecture was introduced to CPUs to allow wider physical and virtual memory and programs to store larger amounts of data in memory. Memory controller was also moved from Northbridge to CPU to speed up the CPU access time to memory.
This architecture marks the era of laptops and high performance desktops.
CPUs are great when it comes to processing serial workloads, but GPUs that have many many more cores are great at processing parallel workloads. APUs combine CPU and GPU into a single piece of silicon. APUs replaced IGPs.
The APU is the future of the modern processor design. In many computational tasks offloading CPU workloads to GPU means great performance improvement and extended battery life.
This architecture enabled the Tablets, Smartphones and Ultrathin notebooks.
The only thing more exciting than doing something better than you’ve ever done it is doing something entirely new. For example, what if you could log in to your computer just by looking at the screen? What if it could respond to just a gesture or your voice command? Many of the capabilities exist today in labs all over the world. Why haven’t they found their way to the mainstream yet?
The answer is in the limitations of existing hardware architecture and software programming models. And this is why heterogeneous systems architecture or HSA is vital to enabling the next era of computing innovation. HSA will remove
1. Remove the bottlenecks of the GPU when accessing system memory and
2. Unlock the GPU compute performance
This architecture is projected to enable the era of natural user interfaces and surround computing.
System on a chip integrates APU with southbridge onto one piece of silicon, increasing chip integration and enabling supercomputing in the palm of your hand.
This architecture is will enable new levels of experiences in a thin and light form factor across all of today’s devices and facilitate the creation of the future ones.
There is no such thing as the final state of computer architecture, but SoC and heterogeneous computing represent the quantum leap in processor design and are set to revolutionize how the next generation of computing devices and user experience will look like.