OpenCL Support in a Meaningful Way

… for more than just a pair of Mac-based laptop GPUs.

Adobe had OpenCL support since last year. You would never benefit from its inclusion unless you ran one of two AMD mobility chips under Mac OSX Lion, but it was there. Creative Cloud, predictably, furthers this trend with additional GPGPU support for applications like Photoshop and Premiere Pro.

This leads to some interesting points:

  • How OpenCL is changing the landscape between Intel and AMD
  • What GPU support is curiously absent from Adobe CC for one reason or another
  • Which GPUs are supported despite not… existing, officially.

This should be very big news for our readers who do production work whether professional or for a hobby. If not, how about a little information about certain GPUs that are designed to compete with the GeForce 700-series?

Right Where Intel Will Realize is Important in 5 Years: AMD's New Battleground

General Purpose GPU (GPGPU) support allows extremely powerful graphics hardware to compute workloads beyond 3D graphics. Typical CPUs have ridiculous processing power, especially when it comes to if-then-else branching logic, but are specialized in doing an easily countable number of tasks. GPUs, on the other hand, are great at doing thousands or even millions of calculations at once, especially when each of the calculations are straight forward (start here, end there, go) sort of problems.

Imagine that you need to perform a calculation, like a blur, once on each pixel of a video. A 1080p movie has about 2 million pixels and so a quad-core CPU will (at best) need to do the same task 500,000 times. The more cores you have, the less each needs to do, because there are millions of jobs just waiting for someone. The GTX Titan, for instance, has 2688 CUDA cores; each core only needs to complete less than a thousand tasks.

Since Intel flipped AMD's table with Core 2's Conroe architecture, the underdog just has not been able to reclaim the title as "fastest at any single task you can throw at it". AMD kept compelling parts in the marketplace when you consider price but they were not the best, money notwithstanding.

At some point, AMD purchased ATi and, at some other point in their partnership, made a fairly large bet in the future of computing. They bet that we would use platforms, namely OpenCL, to develop apps which intelligently balance their workloads across all appropriate hardware. Intel was behind in GPU support, it was a market that Intel dominated by providing roughly the cheapest silicon possible to OEM vendors.



Intel re-invests $12 billion USD in capital, per year; that sum is about twice the total revenue of AMD. On the other hand, getting ahead in the graphics market seems much more time-dependent than cash-dependent, at least from my vantage point. If developers create efficient code, AMD could have another window for a substantial lead in those applications. Advantages with Adobe products could carry their company quite far in sizable markets.

According to AMD slides, certain Premiere Pro enhancements can see as much as a 2.4x increase when compared to a 33%-more-expensive Intel offering. Our video editor, Ken Addison, was discussing how aggravating it is to edit video without the hardware-accelerated Mercury Playback Engine. The slide was a bit disingenuous in one way, however: Intel is listed as "having OpenCL on" despite not actually being supported for OpenCL within Adobe CC. From their press release, I cannot actually tell if they pursued any effort to force OpenCL support on the Intel HD Graphics 2500 iGPU.

Either way, AMD customers will be able to augment performance with a highly powerful coprocessor. As more software follows suit, which might be a necessity in constrained development environments, AMD should have an honest lead for those applications with a single processor. That said, for those concerned with having the best of the best, GPUs can (as should be obvious to our audience) be added to a computer and provide the needed functionality to products from Intel which lack in that area — possibly even an Intel Xeon Phi.

A Curiously Strong Miss: GPUs Absent from Support

As mentioned earlier, Intel HD graphics are not listed as supported for Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine. While these components are about as ubiquitous as GPUs can get, many GPUs are missing.

While Adobe still has several months of planning and production, the new Mac Pro from Apple contains a pair of high-end FirePro graphics processors. Apart from the same two mobility chips available for OpenCL acceleration with CS6, no other AMD-based graphics processor is supported for Mac OSX. It is possible that the new Mac Pro could launch without GPU support from Adobe, unless you run Windows on it if that is even possible.

Before we stray too far from the Mac, while OpenCL support is still negligible, Adobe has added CUDA to nine NVIDIA graphics processors. Support seems to run the gamut, from the GTX 285 all the way up to the Quadro K5000.

Also missing is AMD's dual-GPU Radeon HD 7990. You can accelerate an HD 7970, and you can accelerate NVIDIA's dual-GPU GTX 690, but you allegedly cannot accelerate AMD's dual-GPU solution by default.

NVIDIA owners will also be disappointed to see cards below the GeForce GTX 680, except the mobile GTX 675MX, not supported with Mercury Playback Engine. Personally, I own a GTX 670, and indeed I am disappointed.

Lastly, a large number of Tesla cards are supported under Windows. By a large number, I do not mean all. The most expensive, the K20X, is apparently too tall to enter this ride unlike its smaller K10 and K20 siblings. Do not worry, you $3800 expansion card, you can always sit in the bumper cars.

So, They Do Exist: Supported GPUs We Should Not Know About

Of course, whenever we have a large list of supported hardware, we immediately hunt for entries we do not know about.

Buried within the list of supported Windows GPUs are a few interesting AMD entries: ATI Radeon HD 8870, ATI Radeon HD 8950, and ATI Radeon HD 8970. These are not mobility parts, as those finish with a capital M, which means that Adobe has successfully tested Adobe Premiere CC against unreleased AMD GPUs. This means that, not only are these products planned, but they have also been seeded to Adobe QA.

It would seem that these products are quite far along. Even NVIDIA's already released GeForce Titan and GeForce GTX 700-series have yet to be certified; either those cards have not been, or were just recently, seeded or AMD had functional silicon for quite some time.

In the Endian: The Most Significant News Bytes…

It is good to see Adobe take the meaningful step toward many-core optimization. While you cannot use just any old card, you have a spread of options from both AMD and NVIDIA on the Windows platform. The Mac has received as much attention, but at least Adobe decided to certify more NVIDIA models than just the GTX 285 and a pair of Quadro offerings.

If you are curious, check out Adobe's official GPU listing at their website. It, as claimed, will be updated as new graphics processors are certified.

Adobe Creative Cloud is available now for $49.99 USD per month.