Will AMD’s Ryzen finally bring SHA extensions to Intel’s CPUs?

If you have any skin invested in the high-performance computing game, you’ve almost certainly heard of the likes of MMX and SSE, the original “extensions” to the x86 assembly instruction set that provided task-specific performance-optimized instructions that let developers take advantage of specific hardware extensions to quickly perform tasks that previously required extra steps in software to compute. If you haven’t, here’s a quick briefer.

The “basic” instructions supported by PCs are known as the “x86 assembly language” and is the lowest level of code available for writing software that runs on a “regular PC,” originally developed by Intel and adopted by other players in the CPU game (including AMD and the now-defunct Via CPUs). All PCs from the original Intel 8086 way back in 1978 to modern, multi-core behemoths support this language, and code written in or compiled for x86 can (in theory) run on any machine from 1978 onwards.

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The ARM, the PPC, the x86, and the iPad…

Hot on the heels of the iPad release comes news that Apple has just (very likely) purchased another processor design firm (via EDN).  Intrinsity, the chip design company in question, is a designer of RISC-based CPUs and is rumored to have had something to do with the design of Apple’s new A4 processor. The A4 is Apple’s key ingredient for a smooth user experience in the much-hyped iPad.

Those keeping track of Apple’s purchases will remember that, almost exactly 2 years ago to the day, Apple bought California-based CPU designer PA Semiconductors. However, PA Semi specializes in PowerPC-based designs – a platform that Apple abandoned almost 5 years ago now. But Apple’s most recent acquisition is directly applicable to its current needs in the hardware market, and in particular, its forays into the ARM market. In the official iPad video, Apple engineers and executives discuss their need for a custom CPU in order to let them dictate where the ooomph and power will go, and to what purposes the transistors will be biased.

With all these buyouts and different chipsets in question, it’s easy to get confused. So what is the difference between the ARM, the PPC, and the x86, and where does it matter?

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