The Supercomputer Inside Your PC

You can't wait to show friends and family that video of the goal that clinched your daughter's win for her soccer team last weekend. So you fire up an application to transfer the video to your smart phone. And then you wait, unable to draft witty commentary to accompany the clip because your PC's resources are sapped.

The latest video encoding, digital photo processing, and high-def web video applications demand more computing muscle than ever. That’s because they work on vast amounts of similar data. While your main PC processor is designed to run many different applications and work on small amounts of different types of data, it can't efficiently handle large amounts of similar data like video and other graphics. For that, you need a very different kind of processor.

Enter the GPU, or graphics processing unit. The GPU often lives on a graphics card that rests in a computer’s card slot, and it’s designed specifically to handle graphics-intensive tasks. In fact, the combination of a CPU and one of AMD’s latest RadeonTM HD 6800 series GPUs can perform such tasks substantially faster than a CPU alone.

Until recently, gamers had the most interest in built-in graphics hardware. But that’s changing fast. The 3D graphics that make games so exciting require the computer to process huge volumes of similar data — just like the transcoding necessary to transfer that soccer video. As activities like video transcoding and photo editing become widespread, mainstream users need the same capability, and a GPU becomes a must-have item.

The GPU can relieve the CPU to deliver a better PC experience in lots of scenarios. For example, it can accelerate video in HTML5, Adobe Flash, or Microsoft Silverlight. Browsing with graphical applications like CoolIris is faster. And the newest GPUs allow dazzling cinematic effects in 3D gaming. New web browsers from Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft work better with a GPU, as will applications using WebGL, an emerging 3D standard.

If you use any of the above, adding an AMD Radeon series GPU can be a great way to instantly improve your system. In many cases, it could be a better choice than installing more random-access memory. Where RAM speeds up swapping data to and from the processor, a GPU dramatically speeds up the processing itself for a variety of increasingly popular applications. Whereas the old mantra for improving system performance was “add more RAM,” the new mantra is becoming “add a new graphics card.”

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