Why Nvidia wants an ARM-based CPU

Nvidia has confirmed that it is developing a lineup of ARM-based CPUs designed to power personal computers, servers, and even supercomputers.

Dubbed “Project Denver,” this admirable and potentially lucrative initiative is based on the concept of an indigenously designed CPU running a RISC instruction set.

According to Nvidia chief scientist Bill Dally, the upcoming ARM-based CPU will be “fully integrated” onto a single chip along with an Nvidia GPU.

”Project Denver is extremely important, [as it will] usher in a new era for computing by extending the performance range of the ARM instruction-set architecture, enabling the ARM architecture to cover a larger portion of the computing space,” explained Dally.

“Coupled with an Nvidia GPU, it will provide the heterogeneous computing platform of the future by combining a standard architecture with awesome performance and energy efficiency.”

The chief scientist emphasized that ARM was already the “standard architecture” for mobile devices.

“ARM’s modern architecture, open business model, and vibrant eco-system have led to its pervasiveness in cell phones, tablets, and other embedded devices,” he said.

“And Project Denver extends the range of ARM systems upward to PCs, data center servers, and supercomputers. Denver is the catalyst that will enable these same factors to propel ARM to become pervasive in higher-end systems.”

Dally also predicted that Denver would “free” PCs, workstations and severs from the “hegemony and inefficiency” of traditional x86 architecture. 

“For several years, makers of high-end computing platforms have had no choice about instruction-set architecture. The only option was the x86 instruction set with variable-length instructions, a small register set, and other features that interfered with modern compiler optimizations, required a larger area for instruction decoding, and substantially reduced energy efficiency.

“But Denver provides a choice. System builders can now choose a high-performance processor based on a RISC instruction set with modern features such as fixed-width instructions, predication, and a large general register file. These features enable advanced compiler techniques and simplify implementation, ultimately leading to higher performance and a more energy-efficient processor.”

He added that an ARM processor – paired with an Nvidia GPU – represented the computing platform of the future.  

“A high-performance CPU with a standard instruction set will run the serial parts of applications and provide compatibility while a highly-parallel, highly-efficient GPU will run the parallel portions of programs.

“The result is that future systems – from the thinnest laptops to the biggest data centers, and everything in between – will deliver an outstanding combination of performance and power efficiency. Their processors will provide the best of both worlds, while enabling increased battery life for mobile solutions.”