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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

What Is a GPU? The Chips Powering the AI Increase, and Why They’re Price Trillions


Because the world rushes to utilize the newest wave of AI applied sciences, one piece of high-tech {hardware} has turn out to be a surprisingly scorching commodity: the graphics processing unit, or GPU.

A top-of-the-line GPU can promote for tens of hundreds of {dollars}, and main producer Nvidia has seen its market valuation soar previous $2 trillion as demand for its merchandise surges.

GPUs aren’t simply high-end AI merchandise, both. There are much less highly effective GPUs in telephones, laptops, and gaming consoles, too.

By now you’re in all probability questioning: What’s a GPU, actually? And what makes them so particular?

What Is a GPU?

GPUs have been initially designed primarily to rapidly generate and show advanced 3D scenes and objects, resembling these concerned in video video games and computer-aided design software program. Trendy GPUs additionally deal with duties resembling decompressing video streams.

The “mind” of most computer systems is a chip known as a central processing unit (CPU). CPUs can be utilized to generate graphical scenes and decompress movies, however they’re usually far slower and fewer environment friendly at these duties in comparison with GPUs. CPUs are higher fitted to common computation duties, resembling phrase processing and searching internet pages.

How Are GPUs Completely different From CPUs?

A typical trendy CPU is made up of between 8 and 16 “cores,” every of which might course of advanced duties in a sequential method.

GPUs, alternatively, have hundreds of comparatively small cores, that are designed to all work on the similar time (“in parallel”) to realize quick total processing. This makes them well-suited for duties that require numerous easy operations which may be accomplished on the similar time, reasonably than one after one other.

Conventional GPUs are available in two primary flavors.

First, there are standalone chips, which regularly are available in add-on playing cards for big desktop computer systems. Second are GPUs mixed with a CPU in the identical chip package deal, which are sometimes present in laptops and recreation consoles such because the PlayStation 5. In each instances, the CPU controls what the GPU does.

Why Are GPUs So Helpful for AI?

It seems GPUs may be repurposed to do greater than generate graphical scenes.

Most of the machine studying strategies behind synthetic intelligence, resembling deep neural networks, rely closely on varied types of matrix multiplication.

It is a mathematical operation the place very giant units of numbers are multiplied and summed collectively. These operations are well-suited to parallel processing and therefore may be carried out in a short time by GPUs.

What’s Subsequent for GPUs?

The number-crunching prowess of GPUs is steadily rising because of the rise within the variety of cores and their working speeds. These enhancements are primarily pushed by enhancements in chip manufacturing by corporations resembling TSMC in Taiwan.

The dimensions of particular person transistors—the essential elements of any pc chip—is lowering, permitting extra transistors to be positioned in the identical quantity of bodily area.

Nevertheless, that isn’t all the story. Whereas conventional GPUs are helpful for AI-related computation duties, they aren’t optimum.

Simply as GPUs have been initially designed to speed up computer systems by offering specialised processing for graphics, there are accelerators which can be designed to hurry up machine studying duties. These accelerators are also known as knowledge middle GPUs.

Among the hottest accelerators, made by corporations resembling AMD and Nvidia, began out as conventional GPUs. Over time, their designs developed to higher deal with varied machine studying duties, for instance by supporting the extra environment friendly “mind float” quantity format.

Different accelerators, resembling Google’s tensor processing models and Tenstorrent’s Tensix cores, have been designed from the bottom on top of things up deep neural networks.

Information middle GPUs and different AI accelerators usually include considerably extra reminiscence than conventional GPU add-on playing cards, which is essential for coaching giant AI fashions. The bigger the AI mannequin, the extra succesful and correct it’s.

To additional pace up coaching and deal with even bigger AI fashions, resembling ChatGPT, many knowledge middle GPUs may be pooled collectively to kind a supercomputer. This requires extra advanced software program to correctly harness the accessible quantity crunching energy. One other method is to create a single very giant accelerator, such because the “wafer-scale processor” produced by Cerebras.

Are Specialised Chips the Future?

CPUs haven’t been standing nonetheless both. Current CPUs from AMD and Intel have built-in low-level directions that pace up the number-crunching required by deep neural networks. This extra performance primarily helps with “inference” duties—that’s, utilizing AI fashions which have already been developed elsewhere.

To coach the AI fashions within the first place, giant GPU-like accelerators are nonetheless wanted.

It’s doable to create ever extra specialised accelerators for particular machine studying algorithms. Not too long ago, for instance, an organization known as Groq has produced a “language processing unit” (LPU) particularly designed for working giant language fashions alongside the strains of ChatGPT.

Nevertheless, creating these specialised processors takes appreciable engineering sources. Historical past exhibits the utilization and recognition of any given machine studying algorithm tends to peak after which wane—so costly specialised {hardware} might turn out to be rapidly outdated.

For the common client, nonetheless, that’s unlikely to be an issue. The GPUs and different chips within the merchandise you utilize are prone to maintain quietly getting quicker.

This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the authentic article.

Picture Credit score: Nvidia

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