Dell Workstation Features AMD ATI GPU

At the SIGGRAPH show in New Orleans, Dell introduces its Dell Precision M6400 mobile workstation, powered by the ATI FirePro M7740 graphics accelerator from AMD. The announcements come a day after HP unveiled configurations of its Z800 desktop workstation that run on Nvidia's Tesla GPUs, highlighting an increasing interest among workstation and HPC customers in systems running on graphics processing units.

Workstation vendors continue to bring GPU technologies to their systems. A day after Hewlett-Packard officials said the company was offering its HP Z800 workstation with the option of running up to two Nvidia Tesla graphics processing units, Dell announced Aug. 4 that its Precision M6400 mobile workstations would be powered by the ATI FirePro M7740 graphics accelerator from Advanced Micro Devices.

Dell made the announcement at the SIGGRAPH show in New Orleans. AMD has the Dell workstation on display at the event, held Aug. 3 to 7.

The Dell system is aimed at digital content creators, CAD users and engineers, who need higher-end graphics than they can get from systems powered by CPUs.

John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said it makes sense for Dell and HP-the two largest workstation vendors-to expand their use of GPUs in the workstations run by content creators and other users who need high-end graphics capabilities.

"The interest in [GPUs] is because graphics can create bottlenecks [in application performance]," Spooner said in an interview.

The Dell M6400 offers solid graphics performance with RAID storage options and memory scalability, according to company officials. It can be used with large models in applications based on Microsoft's DirectX or OpenGL.

Janet Matsuda, senior director of AMD's professional graphics business, said workstation users need high performance and execution. The Dell mobile workstation "utilizes the ATI FirePro M7740's powerful GPU and 1GB frame buffer to help accelerate software applications and improve productivity," Matsuda said in a statement.

AMD and Nvidia are driving to open up more avenues for GPUs in PCs, workstations and servers. AMD bought GPU maker ATI in 2006 for $5.4 billion, and in May officials announced AMD was merging its CPU and graphics businesses, which they said was an important step for the company.

On Aug. 3, AMD continued expanding its graphics offerings, rolling out the ATI FirePro V8750 3D workstation graphics accelerator.

For its part, AMD rival Intel is bringing greater graphics capabilities to its processors and is working on its own GPGPU (general-purpose GPU) chip, code-named Larrabee.

Spooner said the newest GPUs let HP and Dell offer options to their workstation customers. They already offer the most recent CPU upgrades from Intel, he said; now they're giving businesses expanded GPU technologies.

"They're combining the latest, greatest graphics with the latest, greatest CPUs," Spooner said.

Nvidia has been a key driver of GPU technologies. Also on Aug. 4 at the SIGGRAPH show, Nvidia unveiled its Quadro Plex computing platforms, aimed at customers who work with very high-resolution systems. The platform lets customers in such areas as oil and gas exploration, architectural design, and medical research run any application across multiple ultrahigh-resolution displays or projectors.

"The massive leap in GPU computing power of our Quadro Plex solutions is enabling customers to interact with their data in ways that previously were not possible," Jeff Brown, general manager of professional solutions at Nvidia, said in a statement.

As well as in workstations, GPUs also are gaining momentum in PCs and servers. As it did when promoting Windows Vista, Microsoft is promoting the graphics capabilities in the upcoming Windows 7 though its DirectX feature, pointing out the need for greater graphics power.

GPUs can be used to offload some graphics-intensive workloads from CPUs, Spooner said.

On the server side, the HPC (high-performance computing) space is becoming fertile ground. Appro International in May rolled out its HyperPower Cluster, which combines Intel's quad-core Xeon 5500 Series "Nehalem EP" chips and Nvidia's Tesla processor.

Appro officials said Nvidia's aggressive campaign to bring its GPUs to more mainstream systems has been key to building interest in GPUs, which Appro officials said can help businesses in some instances run their code faster than traditional x86 processors.