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10 key technologies you couldn't live without

The keys to a digital age in an analogue world

Consider Unicode, XML, and digital signal processing... no, really, do. You couldn't get through your day without them. We've looked at the 10 most important technologies that you use but never think about.

Graphics acceleration

Thought your fancy video card was only good for gaming? Think again. Its graphics processing unit (GPU) is really like a second, highly specialised CPU. When it comes to certain kinds of complex maths, its performance puts your desktop CPU to shame.

Until recently, all that power went to waste when you weren't chalking up frags. But computer scientists are finding novel ways to use GPU acceleration to speed up applications offscreen, as well.

For example, a StanfordUniversity Project, which uses many PCs around the world acting together as a supercomputer to assist protein folding-related disease research, can offload calculations to the GPU to multiply its performance many times.

Because the kind of calculations used to draw 3D graphics are also applicable to many other problems, GPU acceleration is potentially useful for a wide variety of applications, from maths-intensive science and engineering to complex database queries.

Newer, even more complex chips, such as nVidia's Aegia physics engine can do even more. No wonder nVidia has begun working on chips for the workstation market.

Increasingly, your PC's performance won't depend on the speed of any single chip. As AMD and Intel get into the game, expect future desktop CPUs to incorporate CPU and GPU capabilities into a single, multicore package, bringing the best of both worlds to gamers and non-gamers alike.

em>NEXT PAGE: high-speed net access

  1. The keys to today's digital age
  2. Unicode
  3. Digital signal processing
  4. Managed code
  5. Transistors
  6. Why you couldn't live without XML
  7. Nonvolatile RAM
  8. Lithium ion batteries
  9. Voice over IP (VoIP) calls
  10. Graphics acceleration
  11. High-speed net access

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