LibreOffice aims to speed spreadsheets with AMD GPU optimization

LibreOffice logoThe makers of LibreOffice are teaming up with AMD so that the open source office suite can take greater advantage of graphics processing units (GPUs). The partnership is geared toward optimization for AMD's upcoming Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), but LibreOffice developers say their work will make spreadsheets go faster for users of just about any type of computer.

The news, announced today, was spurred by AMD joining the Document Foundation board—the group behind LibreOffice—and providing financial assistance. "We traditionally had a big performance problem in Calc [the LibreOffice spreadsheet application] for large data sets," Michael Meeks, LibreOffice developer and distinguished engineer for Attachmate's SUSE business unit, told Ars. "My hope is we not only eliminate that problem but that we do significantly better."

LibreOffice Calc

LibreOffice has not generally been able to take advantage of the horsepower in GPUs, Meeks said; AMD's HSA helps address this problem. "HSA is an innovative computing architecture that enables CPU, GPU, and other processors to work together in harmony on a single piece of silicon by seamlessly moving the right tasks to the best suited processing element," the Document Foundation said in an announcement. "This makes it possible for larger, more complex applications to take advantage of the power that has traditionally been reserved for more focused tasks."

LibreOffice's development team is refactoring the core of Calc to take advantage of HSA in AMD's GPUs and APUs (accelerated processing units). LibreOffice's spreadsheet calculations have generally been "done in a very unfortunate way, with huge amounts of redundant and repetitive work done right inside the most time critical piece," Meeks said. In the new setup, LibreOffice will change the order of calculations to make them more efficient and will convert tasks into OpenCL so they can be run on GPUs.

When asked if systems with Intel or Nvidia graphics would benefit, Meeks said that "if a vendor has a good OpenCL implementation we'll use that, and that should be fine." Because Calc's code will ultimately be more efficient, even people who own computers without GPUs—"if you can find such a person," Meeks said—should see performance improvements.

The first of these code changes will show up in LibreOffice 4.1 in about a month, but it will take about six months to get substantial benefits to users. Although Meeks is expecting "very significant performance improvements for spreadsheet users," he said it's too early to provide an estimate of just how much speedier spreadsheets will become.

A faster LibreOffice, he joked, will help users "find a business reason to buy the very fastest 3D graphics card you can for your computer. I think that's an important value add to many business users of technology. When your boss comes and says, 'Why have you got this graphics card that's the size of a fridge?' you can say, 'My spreadsheet has got to get faster.'"

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: AMD, LibreOffice, videocards

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