AMD Announces Stream Computing Will Be Mainstream

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AMD Gives Us Something For Free

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

Next month on December 10th AMD plans on releasing Catalyst 8.12 drivers with support for Stream computing. Included with that driver will be the ATI Avivo Video Converter that will enable GPU acceleration for all Radeon HD 4000-series owners. We have been told by AMD that Radeon HD 3000 series owners will be able to use the converter, but it will be software which means that the CPU will do the transcoding.

Why is this a big deal?  NVIDIA and Elemental Technologies jointly developed and launched a program called Badaboom that uses CUDA enabled NVIDIA graphics cards to transcode videos in much the same way. The Badaboom utility isn’t free, it costs $29.99!  The ATI Avivo Video Converter is FREE and actually has even more advanced features.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

The ATI Avivo Video Converter can do everything that Badaboom can do and even more.  The Avivo Video Converter can encode full HD 1080p content and works with MPEG-2 for BD and DVDs.  Very impressive for a free utility that will be part of the Catalyst 8.12 drivers.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

To sum things up, AMD has the ATI Avivo Video Converter coming out in Catalyst 8.12 drivers on December 10th, and anyone with a Radeon HD 4000 series card will be able to take advantage of free GPU acceleration for transcoding video content.  In addition to that AMD has been working with companies like Cyberlink, ArcSoft, Microsoft, Adobe, and others to deliver ATI Stream enabled applications in the months to come. Much of this was made possible by AMD having an ‘open source’ Stream SDK that uses mainly DirectX and Open CL. The upcoming ATI Stream SDK v1.3 will add CAL (Compute Abstraction Layer) into the ATI Catalyst driver suite, which will offer ever more performance enhancements for AMD developers and ultimately consumers.  It looks like the Brook+ stream programming language is working out quite well for AMD.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

An example of this performance can be seen first hand when transcoding an hour of high-definition video.  AMD took an hour MPEG2 108-p movie clip and converted it to H.264 320×240 video in twelve minutes flat.  The same video file took 3 hours and 23 minutes to complete on an Intel Core 2 Quad QX9650 3.0GHz processor with 6GB of memory on Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit edition using iTunes 8.0.1 with WinQuickTimeMPEG2.  This is a dramatic reduction in processing time, and remember it is free! AMD says that this application enables transcoding of HD video up to 17 times faster than with the CPU alone, when using a mainstream ATI Radeon HD 4000 series graphics cards.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

AMD is also announcing a new FireStream card today, the AMD FireStream 9270 stream processor. The Firestream 9270 has a 750MHz core clock, 2GB of 3.6Gbps (900MHz) GDDR5 memory, and a max board power of 160 watts. With these settings the Firestream 9270 offers up to 1.2 TeraFLOPS or 240 double precision GFLOPS of compute performance as a standalone card, which is a good thing as it costs $1499 and is clearly an HPC-class card.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

For those companies that need some computational muscle for researching things like oil, weather, and so on, a company called Aprius has made a rackmount server that is able to hold eight AMD FireStream 9270 cards.  If fully configured with eight graphics cards, the system has a compute power of 9.6TFLOPS and 16GB of available memory. The Computational Acceleration System (CA8000), as it is called, is an impressive rackmount system that should be of interest to many Fortune 500 companies.

ATI Stream Update for Radeon HD Graphics Cards

Final Thoughts and Conclusions:

AMD is the top dog when it comes to gaming graphics performance right now and they are now shifting their focus to countering NVIDIA’s CUDA technology. By releasing a media converter for free that supports more video formats then Elemental Technologies’ $29.99 Badaboom media converter it is a great way to get things going and introduce ATI Stream Technology branding. For nearly a year now AMD has been telling us that they support open standards and that seems like it might start paying off for them come 2009. 

One question I had for AMD was why limit the free ATI Avivo Video Converter to just Radeon HD 4000 series owners as there are millions of Radeon HD 3000 series cards on the market.  NVIDIA’s CUDA technology works on cards that are a couple of years old, so I feel this is a relevant question. To my surprise AMD made a comment about this for the record:  

We currently don’t have a plan to bring it back to older products. Transcoding heavily benefits from integer bitshift operations and the ATI Radeon HD 4000 Series architecture has 5x the integer bitshift performance of HD 2000 and HD 3000 products, so the benefits under those architectures would be reduced. We do have a software development roadmap for both the core AVT library (used by AVIVO Video Convertor and 3rd party applications) and the AVIVO Video Convertor UI and we do expect further improvements for both performance and usability going forward though.  – AMD PR to Legit Reviews

It seems that it was simply a performance call that was made by AMD and nothing more.  It would have been nice to see older cards supported as any performance gain would have been nice, but I guess I can’t complain too much as the ATI Avivo Video Convertor is free. It will be interesting to see what the third party applications from companies like CyberLink and ArcSoft will be like. ArcSoft plans to provide an update in December to its TotalMedia Theatre application that will includes ArcSoft SimHD, a new type of post processing technology that allows consumers to experience close-to-HD viewing of standard definition content thanks to ATI Stream. CyberLink is planning on releasing PowerDirector 7 in Q1 2009 that will include ATI Stream accelerated video conversion that goes well beyond what the ATI Avivo Video Converter can do.

One person we talked with said PowerDirector 7 can transcode 20 movies at a time, so that will be interesting to see. When you consider that the Radeon HD 4870 has 800 stream processors transcoding that many movies at once it doesn’t sound too bad at all. Once more of these mainstream applications are out we will see how performance is between AMD and NVIDIA.  I guess stream computing is finally going to become mainstream! Right now the killer application for stream computing is Adobe Creative Suite 4, but as you can tell, many more programs we all know and love are making the jump to the GPU.

Legit Bottom Line: AMD has been hard at work on GPGPU applications for over two years now and has finally branded the work as ATI Stream Technology. 

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