The graphics coprocessor, invented in the 1970s to churn through voluminous and repetitive calculations and render smooth and realistic-looking images on computer screens, can now chew on large-scale databases. For the past few years, first at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and now at Oracle, researchers have been looking for ways to leverage the power of these graphics processors, known as graphics processing units (GPUs). These special purpose chips are designed to be paired with a central processing unit (CPU) for applications like games and scientific visualization, which demand high graphics performance. A GPU can deliver hundreds of billions of operations per second while requiring only slightly more electrical power and cooling than a CPU. Captivated by such numbers, researchers have already begun harnessing the power of server-scale GPU computing. GPUs are democratizing supercomputing the way the PC democratized computing, making an enormous amount of computational power available to the masses.
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