Ask any car enthusiast what it takes to “pimp my ride” for better performance and they will probably talk about spending thousands of dollars on upgraded fuel injection systems, turbochargers, special exhaust systems, and other pricey hot rod parts — just to shave a couple of seconds from their acceleration time and boost top speed by a few more miles per hour.
However, many people are unaware that soon in the future, it may be possible to boost their car’s horsepower and torque, tweak handling capabilities, and fine-tune their transmission and suspension with a simple software upgrade to the car’s computer control unit. Better yet, downloadable software upgrades might someday enable car owners to easily upgrade the rest of their car, enabling specialized features like remote starting capability, enhanced security monitoring, child-lock protection, and more.
This is precisely what is happening with today’s advanced personal computers. An APU — accelerated processing unit — and other modern processors combine the productivity processing of a traditional CPU (central processing unit) with the multimedia, gaming, and graphics acceleration of a GPU (graphics processing unit) that displays images on your computer screen. Since their introduction several years ago, APUs have continued to improve, with the CPU and GPU working better together. Now, simply downloading and installing the latest software updates for today’s APUs enable better graphics performance, and adds new features that improve the user experience and could prolong a device’s service life.
A symbiotic relationship
In this way, today’s hardware and software have become highly interconnected and interdependent, a technology “yin-yang” that dynamically interacts as a single computing unit. This symbiotic relationship between hardware and software is vital to the ongoing evolution of future computing devices. Current software becomes incorporated into the next generation of hardware, the latter introducing new capabilities, which creates a new platform for software developers to create yet further software innovations. This repeatable, dynamic hardware-software evolution is responsible for the tremendous leaps in performance and capability. Put simply, software creates better hardware, which leads to better software, and on it goes, faster and faster.
Many things will profoundly change as we move swiftly toward a future Internet of things, with its vast array of Internet-connected devices, appliances, sensors, and objects, often using information originating from other devices. However, one aspect will likely remain unchanged: People will use some kind of a display-equipped device throughout the day, whether they are working, driving, cooking, relaxing or playing. As people will likely continue to be the primary creators and “routers” of information within the Internet of things, the importance of graphics acceleration of screen displays and advanced user interface technologies, along with connected devices, will drive a new era of interactive computing.
Hardware vs. software
This leads to the question about which is more important to our computing future: hardware or software? Answer: Both are equally important.
For example, the three areas of computing user-experience most significantly affected by the hardware-software relationship are computer gaming, graphics-accelerated applications, such as Photoshop and Web browsers, and new user interface technologies, including gesture and facial recognition. Gaming performance is already enjoying year-over-year double-digit performance increases achieved solely by new software updates, and new devices with displays a mere 5mm thick are now featuring 5K resolution — seven times the resolution of 1080p.
For 5K displays to be impactful, even greater levels of GPU acceleration are needed. Additionally, powerful graphics processing advancements are driving new user interface concepts, enabling your device to see, hear, and recognize you, using advanced face recognition, voice recognition, and real-time recognition of hand and finger gestures, biometrics and more.
A major benefit of this hardware-software symbiosis occurs when innovations developed for a specific technology are implemented in unrelated technology areas and applications. One example is how automobile manufacturers are now embracing many technologies originally developed for PCs and console gaming, video entertainment, touch-screen mobile devices, and voice recognition communications.
Modern processors are an example of advanced hardware intentionally designed to enable future software innovations. This development marks the birth of a new computing ecosystem capable of making enormous strides toward advanced gaming and other visual technologies, more sophisticated user interfaces, and greater visual potential.
This developing hardware-software symbiosis further enables the easy connection of smart devices. In this new interactive computing era, manufacturers and product developers will no longer be forced to choose between limited devices to support their application programming efforts, removing the major limiting factor of today’s hardware-software environment and opening up a wide realm of possibilities.
Sasa Marinkovic is a technology evangelist at AMD. He is responsible for identifying and evangelizing upcoming industry trends and technologies critical to AMD’s success. He was responsible for the successful launch of several generations of disruptive products (IGPs, dGPUs, and APUs) and technologies (including HSA) and holds a number of patents, including PowerXpress, a technology that has been implemented in most of today’s notebooks. He joined ATI Technologies in 1996 and came to AMD via AMD’s acquisition of ATI. He graduated from the University of Toronto where he received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He lives in Toronto.