How Faster Computers Could Improve Your Life

Better AI and video games

  • A coalition of universities is working to increase computers' speed and efficiency significantly. 
  • Other approaches to boosting computing speed include parallel processing and quantum computers. 
  • Faster computers could allow scientists to find new drugs more quickly.
An abstract network data image with ones and zeros and light trails on a dark background.

Yuichiro Chino / Getty Images

Your next computer might be orders of magnitude faster than the one you are using now. 

A group of universities is starting a significant effort to improve the speed and efficiency of computers. The new action could be helpful in areas like gaming, speeding up drug development, and improving artificial intelligence. 

"The advantages of faster computing systems include the ability to perform more complex calculations and simulations, faster data analysis, and faster rendering of visual content," Dvir Ben Aroya, the CEO of the tech company Spike told Lifewire in an email interview. "This can lead to advances in fields such as scientific research, medicine, weather forecasting, and computer-generated imagery."

Faster, Better Circuits

The group of 10 universities is banding together to create the $50.5 million UC San Diego-led Processing with Intelligent Storage and Memory center, or PRISM. The initiative aims to build new systems that ensure computation happens in-memory and near-memory and storage, resulting in maximum performance and efficiency. 

"We will build the hardware and software that will make sense of all the data that we generate today–quickly and accurately," computer scientist Tajana Simunic-Rosing, who will lead the project, said in the press release. 

The PRISM effort is one of many ways researchers are trying to boost computing speed. Other approaches include parallel processing, where tasks are divided among multiple processors, and specialized hardware such as graphics processing units (GPUs) and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), Aroya said. 

"Theoretical approaches include the use of quantum computing, which utilizes the principles of quantum mechanics to perform calculations, and neuromorphic computing, which mimics the way the human brain processes information," he added. 

Current computing techniques have speed limits. Aroya said those limitations include the speed of data transmission between components, the rate at which data can be stored and retrieved, and the physical limitations of the materials used to construct the computer. The power consumption and heat generated by high-performance computing can also be a limitation.

Sugandha Sahay, a technical program manager at Amazon Web Services, gave an example via email of a gamer who wants to play a video game on their computer. The game is stored on the computer's hard drive, like an extensive library for storing things. To play the game, the computer needs to take the game from the hard drive and put it into the computer's memory.

"One limitation on computing speed in this scenario is the speed at which the computer can read the game from the hard drive and put it into memory," Sahay said. "This is called the hard drive's read speed. If the hard drive's read speed is slow, it will take longer for the game to start up."

With a faster computing system, the computer would be able to use its resources more efficiently...

Another limitation is the amount of memory the computer has, Sahay pointed out. If the computer doesn't have enough memory, it will have to constantly move things in and out of memory to make room for the game, which can slow down the game's performance.

"Additionally, the graphics card, which is like the computer's visual artist, is another limitation," Sahay said. "If the graphics card is not powerful enough, the game's graphics will be slow and choppy. Finally, the computer's CPU, which is like the brain of the computer, is also a limitation. If the CPU is slow, it will take longer for the computer to process the game's instructions, which can make the game run slower."

Game On

Faster computing systems could also lead to much better video games. Sahay said that with faster hard drive read speeds and more memory, the game would start up and load levels much faster, allowing the player to start playing the game sooner. And with more powerful graphics cards and a faster CPU, the game would run smoother and have less lag, making the gameplay more enjoyable.

"With a faster computing system, the computer would be able to use its resources more efficiently, which would reduce power consumption and heat dissipation, resulting in a cooler and more energy-efficient computer," Sahay said.

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