Selecting a machine for OpenCL / GPGPU use

Selecting a machine for OpenCL / GPGPU use

What is GPGPU computing?  GPGPU stands for General Purpose computing on Graphics Processor Units.  The basic idea is that we use the graphics card to do some computing.  Today most computers have 2 cores and some as many as 6.  With hyper-threading we may see what appears to be double that many processors.  However, a video card such as the NVidia 480 has “cores” or processors.

Portable or Desktop?

If you choose a portable machine you will be able to take the unit with you for presentations, research or on the go development.  However, you will typically sacrifice in the power or number of cores that the video card has available.  For instance a laptop with a GT330M has 48 cores.  A desktop with a GT330 has 96-112 cores.

You’ll also likely have a much harder time finding a suitable laptop.  When choosing a desktop, go for a mini-tower case or one that can be purchased with the appropriate video card.  Current video cards often take additional power from the power supply and require additional ventilation.  For instance, you could purchase an HP HPE-380T with an NVidia GTX260 with 1.8G of DDR3 RAM and 192 cores!

ATI or NVidia?

NVidia is known for its CUDA entry.  ATI has ATI Stream computing.  Both companies now have drivers for OpenCL.  I chose to go with NVidia because I was able to find my resources for their products.  ATI Stream is fairly new.

Whichever you choose, you will need to know what type of computing/gaming you plan to do and if there is existing support for that.  Also, you will need to make sure to check the manufacturers pages to see if the video card you have selected is supported for GPGPU use.

Cores, speed

In general, the more cores or shaders the better.  Also pay attention to how fast they are running.


What type of memory? In general you want to stay away from shared memory.  This makes use of the slower system memory and steals resources from the PC.  Look for DDR3 or DDR5 memory.  Sometimes they are prefixed with a G like GDDR3.  In general DDR5 is faster.

How much memory?  After consulting with a professor with experience in the field he suggested 512M minimum.  If you can get more that is preferred. 

Sony CW, F and Z series

Because I wanted to be portable and have the minimum 512M with an NVidia card, I considered the Sony CW, F and Z series computers.

However, these machines are new enough that the released video drivers do NOT support OpenCL.  I did find that there is a way to modify the released NVidia drivers to work on them.

After using the information above, I was able to run the Particles demo from here:

However, the hardware identification and mandelbrot set generator on that site don't work.

I also downloaded and tested a CUDA based mandelbrot application that was listed on the NVidia featured applications site.  It ran nicely.