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Apple Snow Leopard plus Nvidia equals what?

Nvidia has become well ensconced in Apple's lineup. So, what's the connection between Apple's graphics-fortified lineup and Snow Leopard OS X?

Nvidia is in at Apple. So, what's the connection between Apple's graphics-fortified lineup and Snow Leopard OS X?

First a quick canvass of the state of Apple's graphics. Low-performance Intel integrated graphics have been booted from MacBooks, replaced by Nvidia. And, earlier this week, Apple updated the iMac, Mac mini, and Mac Pro with Nvidia graphics across the board and didn't mince words on its Web site: "Ultrafast Nvidia graphics" ad copy is prominently displayed for the iMacs. ATI graphics are also promoted for the Mac Pro and offered on the iMac.

Then, there's this Snow Leopard blurb on Apple's site: "OpenCL (Open Computing Language), makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit (GPU). With GPUs approaching processing speeds of a trillion operations per second, they're capable of considerably more than just drawing pictures. OpenCL takes that power and redirects it for general-purpose computing."

So, what does this add up to? "Apple is teeing up to accelerate graphic applications better than anyone else--a market segment they are well known in and loved, so it behooves them to nurture and protect it," said Jon Peddie, of Jon Peddie Research, which tracks the graphics market. "Nvidia has been working in the background with Apple, very closely, for about five years now. What you're seeing now is the manifestation of that investment," he said.

What this means is that Apple is doubling its efforts to unlock the parallel processing power of GPUs--which these days pack hundreds of processing units--to speed up more than just games. Apple wants to use the GPU more as a general purpose processor by expanding, via OpenCL, the range of applications that can tap into the prodigious processing power of the GPU--which can be programmed to crunch certain kinds of data much faster than a dual-core or quad-core Intel processor.

U.K.-based technology Web site The Register had this to say about Snow Leopard back in December: "There's a strong possibility (Snow Leopard) leapt well past Windows 7." And goes on to say: "The release of OpenCL 1.0 is a giant step towards the long-sought which the massively parallel capabilities of GPUs (graphics-processing units) are brought to bear on general-purpose applications."

Apple is also extolling the virtues of Intel multicore processors, saying on its Snow Leopard page that Grand Central, a new set of technologies built into Snow Leopard, "brings unrivaled support for multicore systems to Mac OS X. More cores, not faster clock speeds, drive performance increases in today's processors."

Sounds like Windows 7 is going to have some competition.