In today’s society, it’s normal to expect new models of phones, computers, video game consoles, or almost any device there is out there on the market every year. With the expectation of better features, a new design, and improved graphics, there’s a never-ending cycle of creation and improvement of technology. However, what would happen if technology never improved? How would society be impacted if we still used computers made in the mid-1900s? Could you imagine a world where there was no such thing as high-definition displays or 3D graphics? We are so used to getting the latest and newest versions of technology that it’s often hard to look back on times where technology wasn’t at today’s standards.
One innovation in computing that has changed the world socially, economically, and culturally is the development of the Graphics Processing Unit that is in most technological devices today. A graphics processing unit, also known as a GPU or graphics card, is a type of processor that was created to manage graphic rendering tasks that the Central Processing Unit, CPU, could not handle. The term Graphics Processing Unit was coined when the American chip-maker company NVIDIA introduced the GPU to the PC industry on August 31, 1999. Although the GPU was introduced in 1999, its use can be traced back to as early as 1951 with the creation of 3D flight simulators that were used in the Navy. The foundation of modern GPUs today can also be seen as far back as the 1970s with the use of video shifters.
The main purpose of a Graphics Processing Unit is to render content, such as graphics, and ensure that computers or monitors display images properly. One of the key reasons why the GPU was created was due to the limited graphics processing functionalities that the Central Processing Unit (CPU) in a computer possessed. Because of this problem with the CPU, computers would often freeze and slow down in speed since the CPU cannot handle demanding workloads by itself. With its creation, the GPU not only aided the CPU by handling graphics processing functionalities, but it also rendered images on computers better. By using a GPU, a computer’s performance increased greatly, helping computers avoid problems such as overheating, and allowed for higher frame rates on a computer. The GPU was able to increase the detail of any type of graphics on a display without sacrificing performance on a device.
There are a plethora of technical aspects that the GPU contains which makes it a key innovation in computing today. The most significant technical aspect of the GPU is that it focuses on parallelization, meaning that it can execute many mathematical calculations simultaneously rather than sequentially. Unlike a CPU which may only have 4 cores, a GPU can contain up to thousands of cores specifically made for parallel operations. The data parallel structure of a GPU makes it optimal for handling computationally intensive data that would take a long time for the CPU to compute. Whereas the CPU can power web applications and word processing, GPUs can make visual models and 3D graphics.
Moving away from the technological aspect of the GPU, its creation and introduction to the PC industry has had various impacts and effects on the world. A few benefits of the GPU is that it speeds up the efficiency of a computer graphics-wise and has created opportunities to develop and research areas such as 3D graphics and modeling, medical innovation, infrastructure, scientific image processing, and super-computing. However, despite all these benefits, there are also consequences to the development of the GPU. For example, GPUs are heavily used in cryptocurrency due to its ability to handle a large amount of repetitive work. The widespread use of GPUs have not only inflated their prices, but it also harbors some security risks on topics such as cryptocurrency, where hackers and cyber criminals can steal large sums of money easily. Relating back to today’s society, over the past decade, our culture has been immersed in entertainment such as video games, movies, and even social media sites that were made possible due to GPU-related processes, showing that the GPU is a computer innovation that we almost can’t live without.
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