AMD defends itself from Nvidia OpenCL attack

Earlier this week Nvidia and AMD squared off over support for open source drivers, and it seems neither company is ready to lay down the handbag just yet – this time against the backdrop of OpenCL.

Nvidia has been rather vocal about the fact it feels AMD is dragging its feet in terms of OpenCL, whereas it, on the other hand, purports to be steaming full speed ahead.

“We’ve seen a lot of protestation from AMD, but little execution…” a source close to Nvidia told TechEye.

For example, why, our source asked, didn’t AMD pass conformance on its OpenCL driver until nearly five months after Nvidia? And why has the firm still not released anything to end users after seven months and counting? What is with AMD’s seeming reluctance, our source continued, to support OpenCL features beyond the bare minimum spec? And why was OpenCL still not a part of AMD’s standard driver distribution?

We put these questions to AMD spinmaster, Chris Hook, who argued that many of the points were “simply not true.”

As to the conformance issue, Hook said it wasn’t “completely true,” as AMD “had CPU conformance quickly after Nvidia did and GPU conformance came quickly after that.”

“We’re not sure how they’re counting there,” he added.

NVIDIA released OpenCL v1.0 conformant drivers to developers in June 2009.

“GPU conformance was later, but it wasn’t five months. And on Snow Leopard we had conformance on the same day,” he went on, saying “. I’m not disputing that there was a delay, but I am disputing the amount of time.”

“Why did it take longer? I don’t know why it took longer, but it didn’t take as long as Nvidia is trying to portray.”

Going on to respond to claims that AMD has “still not released anything to end users,” Hook said this was inaccurate as the Open CL SDK is actually public on the website.

So what’s with the reluctance to go beyond the bare necessities? Hook again disputed the implication in the question, noting “we do support some extensions already on our CPUs and GPUs and one example I would give is Atomics.”

“We also offer preview versions of other extensions, which are going to move into production status over time,” he said – but emphasised AMD was “prioritising this based on what customers and ISVs are requesting.”

“If we’re not getting the requests from our users then we’re not putting in engineering resources until the community says that they need them,” he said. Which, to be fair, sounds sensible enough.

Either way, bottom line says Hook is that AMD’s support “As of right now, is beyond the minimal spec.”

But Hook also argued that there really was “No real point of having OpenCl in your standard driver until there’s a large volume of applications that are widely available.”

“We’ve already made our SDK available, it’s not a beta, it has been in full production since December,” he told TechEye.

Support for OpenCL has been publicly available in Nvidia driver releases since September 2009, but Hook reckons this is a silly policy.

“When you start forcing everybody to take a huge download, that costs them money, it costs them bandwidth, so we try to package up our drivers with the most relevant features for that point in time that are available,” he explained.

“If people want to download any other bits and pieces, they still have the option to do so, but we’re not forcing them to.”