CPUs are still running their course and has served us well over the years. Moore’s law is an observation that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit double every two years. Its hard to conceive that CPUs approaching 50 Billion transistors can be a 100 Billion by this time next year. The transistor is getting close to the size of an atom and according to some scientists, we still have a way to go before the physical limits would prevent the reduction in size or higher operating speeds.

CPUs are incredibly versatile, relatively cheap and for the most part, this general purpose processing unit has done us well. I am sure you heard the old adage: “if you only have a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.” CPUs are the hammer and because of its versatility it has been applied to just about every nail.

But why not use the right tool for the job? Sure, you can perform image enhancement on a CPU, but GPUs are specifically designed to manipulate graphics. Based on the task, the speed difference could be staggering.

Entering the age of XPUs

The “X” in “XPU” stands for any compute architecture that best fits the need of your application. xPUs are specialized processing units that are designed and optimized to handle specific workloads such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and high-performance computing. XPUs are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to accelerate specific workloads and offer improved performance over traditional CPUs.

GPUs are very popular now. You can’t help but see how the GPU is radically changing the landscape of Artificial Intelligence. But there are many other xPUs coming to life and can offer incredible processing speeds for specific tasks. Here are just a few:

ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits), FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays), TPU (Tensor Processing Unit), NPU (Neural Processing Unit), IPU (Intelligent Processing Unit), DPU (Data Processing Unit), and I recently read a paper on a proposed BPU (Block Chain Processing Unit). This is obviously, not an exhaustive list of alternative processing units, but you may be see that we have now entered the age of XPUs.

By offloading task specific processing from the host computer’s CPU, we are able to free up the CPU to do other things. Data is growing at incredible rates and data processing needs are growing along with it. The future of compute will be one by which we optimize pipelines by running tasks on devices specifically designed for it. Digital Cortex, is looking to offer a platform that makes it easy to ensure that the right tasks runs on the right device.

Strengths of XPUs:

Some workloads are better served with traditional CPUs. However XPUs offer significant performance gains over traditional CPUs. for some specific tasks. XPUs can handle large amounts of data and compute-intensive tasks more efficiently than a traditional CPU, making them ideal for use in applications such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Limitations of XPUs:

One of the main limitations of XPUs is that they are not that straight forward to use. Writing functions for these devices are still somewhat complex and require a deeper level of understanding of the hardware. Programming for xPUs can be a challenging at times and often require a paradigm shift in thinking to fully exploit. However, the performance gains achieved are well worth the effort from both a performance and cost savings perspective.

Future of XPUs:

As the demand for high-performance computing and AI continues to grow, XPUs will play a critical role in meeting these demands. XPUs will be used in a wide range of applications from artificial intelligence to image processing. The continued development of XPUs will lead to more efficient and powerful accelerators allowing for more complex AI models to be trained and deployed faster, The benefit of XPUs deployed in real-world applicatios also have the added benefit of reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.

There are major initiatives underway to try and consolidate and standardize XPU development. I am particularly excited with Intel’s oneAPI. oneAPI has the potential for becoming the defacto standard for XPU development. Intel is making the write once/run on any compliant XPU a reality.

In conclusion, XPUs offer significant benefits in terms of performance and energy efficiency for specific workloads. XPUs will continue to be an important component of high-performance computing and AI applications, It’s just a matter of time before it becomes mainstream.

Digital Cortex is building the industries first Acceleration as a Service platform that is bridging the gap between CPU and Quantum Computing. If you have a serious bottleneck, need to improve performance, or would just like to lower your cloud costs reach out to me. We may be able to help.