Feature Story

More feature stories by year:


Return to: 2015 Feature Stories


Feb. 25, 2015: EE Times

Industry Group Break New Ground for Heterogeneous Computing

The HSA Foundation is paving the way for more power-efficient computing performance across all computing platforms -- from smartphones to supercomputers.

Having arrived in the era of system-on-chip (SOC) design, today's engineers have enjoyed clear advantages in utilizing heterogeneous systems compared with prior platforms. Combined CPU and GPU designs, dedicated hardware accelerators, and high bandwidth memory access all provide opportunities for application developers, but we need hardware changes that -- in turn -- lead to an easier programming model for applications to take full advantage of all the available processing resources. There is still significant headroom in heterogeneous computing to drive more performance and reduce power.

What is the HSA Foundation?

Solving the problems mentioned above is the primary objective of the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation. The HSA Foundation is a non-profit industry consortium founded in 2012 to drive creation of a new architecture that advances and promotes heterogeneous systems, and to help bring HSA-enabled platform and software solutions to market. HSA Foundation members create products in the areas of mobile, embedded, personal computers, game consoles, high-performance computing (HPC), and cloud server, thereby demonstrating the breadth of markets that can benefit from HSA. Through industry standardization and broad industry support for heterogeneous computing, the HSA Foundation empowers a full value chain of intellectual property creators, semiconductor companies, operating system companies, and middleware and independent software developers

HSA Foundation members design or ship the vast majority of the world's power-efficient computing devices, and include AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, LG, MediaTek, Qualcomm, and Samsung on its Board of Directors. In total, 43 companies and 16 universities comprise an open foundation with broad support for the next generation in computing innovation.

What is HSA?

Heterogeneous system architecture is defined in the HSA specifications and includes the following major features:

  • Unified addressing across all processors.
  • Operation into pageable system memory.
  • Full memory coherency.
  • User mode dispatch.
  • Architected queuing language.
  • HSAIL virtual ISA for parallel computation.
  • High-level language support for GPU compute processors.
  • Preemption and context switching

The HSA Foundation will release the HSA 1.0 specifications next month. The information in these specifications will be of interest to hardware vendors, OS vendors, application developers, compiler writers, and research institutes.

Who will benefit from HSA?

System designers and software developers will immediately benefit from the emergence of this standard for processor inter-operation on SOCs. End-users of computing devices will also benefit as HSA enabled platforms are delivered to market.

Here are some examples of use cases that can benefit from HSA technology:

  • Movies and TV shows can be re-compressed for online streaming to take notably less bandwidth as HEVC encode algorithms improve over time.
  • Video search can be accelerated to allow browsing and selective playback of home movies, indexed by person, action, or place.
  • Video chat apps can be designed to drain the battery less as CPUs, GPUs, and DSPs work seamlessly together in shared memory.

The above are just a few of the benefits to existing applications and use cases. The arrival of HSA across all these segments creates a fertile ground for new application types to emerge, once it is much easier for app developers to harness all of the processors together.

It's an exciting time for the HSA Foundation. We are paving the way for more power-efficient computing performance across all computing platforms -- from phones to tablets to notebooks to workstations to supercomputers.

Stay tuned!

Return to: 2015 Feature Stories