It's tough to disagree with Rik Myslewski at The Register's take on Apple's decision to buy around eight million shares in Imagination Technologies. Although Apple is already using Imagination's PowerVR through the Samsung applications processor in the iPhone-class devices, all the signs point to Apple wanting to shift more of the software burden to graphics processors in not just its desktop products but the mobile ones as well. This is why the Snow Leopard release of Mac OS X is likely to be more important in the future than the laundry list of features that characterised its predecessor, Leopard, as I wrote in The Guardian yesterday.
For anything that can make use of large quantities of parallelism, graphics processors (GPUs) are more energy efficient than general-purpose processors. In fact, they are so good that we may well see a subtle rebranding of these devices, underlining the idea that do not have to be used just for graphics. The term "stream processor" is turning up more often. Take nVidia, which makes the GPUs used in the latest generation of MacBook machines. The company refers to the processors inside the chips as stream processors, a nod to Prof Bill Dally of Stanford University who has come up with a number of key concepts for doing efficient parallel processing and is working on some ideas for improving their energy efficiency.