Details about the first chip to emerge from Nvidia's Project Denver show how little we know about what will happen next in client computing.
The next big step is Maxwell, Nvidia’s next big graphics core. It will arrive in 2014 sporting a capability to share virtual memory between the graphics and ARM host processor.
This is a key step in simplifying the job of programming chips that pack graphics and host ARM or x86 processors. It is so important, AMD launched an alliance called the Heterogeneous Systems Architecture (HSA) group to set open standards for how to do it. HSA includes ARM, Imagination Technologies, Microsoft, Qualcomm and many others.
Analysts such as Krewell and Patrick Moorhead expect Nvidia will probably borrow the open techniques the HSA group defines and plug them into Cuda, using different marketing names. That’s pretty much what Intel did with its 64-bit instructions because AMD defined the 64-bit x86 architecture first working with Microsoft and the Windows giant refused to support two different flavors of the technology in its operating systems.
But this time, the move to a new architecture is a three-way game with AMD, Nvidia and Intel all competing. Presumably Intel is taking its own route to SoCs that share a common pool of cache coherent memory between graphics and x86 cores It likely will embrace both its current on-chip graphics cores and its external Xeon Phi. But it has yet to reveal its exact plans.
There’s another new wrinkle this time. Microsoft is not the only or even the biggest player in operating systems anymore. Google is set to displace it with Android as the client OS observers expect to run in the majority of tomorrow’s client computers.
So we have three competing microprocessor camps and two competing OS providers (three if you count Apple which will do its own thing) all racing toward one common architecture. There could be a lot of twists ahead in this road map.