updated 05:35 pm EDT, Fri October 2, 2009
NVIDIA Fermi with Snow Leopard in mind
The just-unveiled Fermi graphics architecture will find its way into Macs and play an important role in Mac OS X Snow Leopard, NVIDIA chief scientist Bill Dally said today. While it's expected that NVIDIA would continue to play an important part of future Macs, the researcher drew a particular connection between the new GPU design and Apple's new OS, expecting that it would provide a significant boost for those apps that implement OpenCL. Windows 7 will also get support through DirectX 11 and DirectCompute.
"A lot of [the new] features accelerate key consumer applications," Dally told CNET. "Both Snow Leopard and Windows 7 enable the GPU to be used as a co-processor... [using a] discrete GPU they can get very good performance on these applications."
He added that Fermi may lose some of its potential in raw graphics performance because of its heavy emphasis on general computing but that it should prove itself once more software starts using the hardware for more than video. Games can exploit unused resources on a Fermi chipset to render physics more accurately without as much of a performance hit, for example, while media creation tools like Photoshop can speed up filter rendering or other duties that normally wouldn't benefit from a faster video chipset.
Few Mac apps are optimized for OpenCL at present. Most that do support general-purpose computing on graphics cards still support NVIDIA's proprietary CUDA format instead, which doesn't work with AMD's ATI-branded cards or other competitors' products.
Dally wouldn't say when GPUs based on the design would appear, but he did state that the first gaming and workstation parts would ship close together. Rumors have a minimum of three high-end cards launching before the end of 2009, targeting gamers and other performance users, while mobile and low-end parts aren't due until 2010.
For Apple, higher-end desktop Macs with discrete graphics, such as the 24-inch iMac and Mac Pro, are most likely to get the upgrade first. 20-inch iMacs, Mac minis and all MacBooks use integrated mobile chipsets for graphics.