Intel & AMD: The GPU's Role in the CPU War

Perhaps I am not an expert in microprocessor design, but I would like to throw an idea out. I’m not claiming correctness but simply proposing a possibility based on my limited knowledge.


Anyhow, as most tech enthusiasts are aware, Intel and AMD are the two main competitors for microprocessors in your desktop or laptop. Both have been around for quite some time and implement what is commonly called the "x86" instruction set dating back to the days of the 8086, a very old 16bit CPU.

As time has progressed, these chips, if you will, have grown increasingly complicated and have evolved drastically. Today, the majority of these microprocessors house both a CPU and a GPU essentially combining the two most important compute units inside of the modern microcomputer onto a single package.

In 2006, AMD acquired ATI, one of the premiere GPU companies, setting the stage for AMD Fusion, an initiative to combine CPUs and GPUs into APUs (Accelerated Processing Units). Intel, on the other hand, has been developing their GPUs in-house, and for quite some time, Intel GPUs were ridiculed as being unfit for graphics heavy applications necessitating the purchase of a dedicated GPU add-in card.

With Haswell, Intel is hoping to change this stigma unveiling multiple new SKUs--all of which promise improved graphics performance. Also in a bid to become more competitive, Intel deployed new graphics drivers adding support for OpenCL, a framework for the development of applications which take advantage of heterogeneous processing environments. Put simply, OpenCL is a way for developers to tap into both the CPU and GPU more easily.

The Theory

Here is the proposition. AMD is losing the battle for pure CPU performance, and they are resorting to excessive clock speeds (the new FX-9000 series, anyone?) to compete on the higher end of the market. However, AMD has much superior GPUs due to their ATI acquisition. Now that Intel is supporting OpenCL, development under OpenCL is likely to increase dramatically which theoretically should benefit AMD as AMD can lean on the muscle provided by its GPU to compensate for some of the weaknesses of its CPU.

Is it possible that Intel’s support for OpenCL will actually allow AMD to help close the performance gap long term? Or is this really not going to make any difference? Or will OpenCL not catch on enough for consumers to care?

However, with the engineering prowess of Intel, it is possible that their GPGPU (general purpose graphics processing units) will become fast enough in OpenCL applications that this entire argument is not important. Of course, this all is ignoring the threat of ARM on the lower end of the market.

In the comments, offer your ideas on the situation. Agree, disagree, etc.

jptech is soon to be a Computer Engineering major and has programmed in some capacity since elementary school. He frequently reads online publications such as The Verge, Tom’s Hardware, and AnandTech, and he has no ties to any of the corporations mentioned (yet at least).