Nvidia Announces Plans to Build Own Accelerated Processing Units for PCs, Servers

Nvidia to Design Custom ARM Cores for CPU-on-GPU Chips

by Anton Shilov
01/05/2011 | 08:33 PM

Nvidia Corp., a leading designer of graphics processors and multimedia system-on-chips, on Wednesday announced plans to develop its own ARM-based micro-architecture. The company intends to integrate future custom central processing unit (CPU) cores into its graphics processing units (GPUs) and install the latter into both personal computers and servers.


Known under the internal code-name "Project Denver", this initiative features an Nvidia CPU running the ARM instruction set, which will be fully integrated on the same chip as the Nvidia GPU. This new processor stems from a strategic partnership, also announced today, in which Nvidia has obtained rights to develop its own high performance CPU cores based on ARM's future processor architecture. In addition, Nvidia licensed ARM's current Cortex-A15 processor for its future-generation Tegra mobile processors.

Nvidia's intention to integrate ARM-based microprocessor cores had been known for over a year now. Back in November, 2010, the company even unveiled plans to develop a so-called Echelon design chip that incorporates a large number (~1024) of stream cores and a smaller (~8) number of latency-optimized CPU-like cores on a single chip. As a result, the current announcement is just a formal confirmation of Nvidia's plans to enter the market of accelerated processing units (APUs, the chips that feature both CPU and GPU cores on the same die) eventually.

"ARM is the fastest-growing CPU architecture in history. This marks the beginning of the Internet Everywhere era, where every device provides instant access to the Internet, using advanced CPU cores and rich operating systems. ARM's pervasiveness and open business model make it the perfect architecture for this new era. With Project Denver, we are designing a high-performing ARM CPU core in combination with our massively parallel GPU cores to create a new class of processor," said Jen-Hsun Huang, president and chief executive officer of Nvidia.

While it remains to be seen how successful ARM architecture will be in servers, it should be stressed that Nvidia makes no promises about any actual products or time frames. Perhaps, by the time project Denver evolves into actual devices the market of servers will be completely different from today and highly-parallel accelerators will be more important than x86-based AMD Opteron or Intel Xeon microprocessors.

"Nvidia is a key partner for ARM and this announcement shows the potential that partnership enables. With this architecture license, Nvidia will be at the forefront of next generation SoC design, enabling the Internet Everywhere era to become a reality," said Warren East, ARM chief executive officer.