An accelerated processing unit (APU) combines the powerful machinery benefits of a computer’s central processing unit (CPU) with the visual benefits of a graphics processing unit (GPU) into a single chip.

APUs have been used for a number of years across multiple sectors, playing a particularly large part within the gaming sector. However, as these devices have become more sophisticated and powerful — and bearing in mind that, according to Global Market Insights, the embedded system market is expected to reach $258 billion by 2023 — a number of commercial industries are increasingly realizing the various applications that APUs can have and their ability to drive value within various businesses.

APUs and the evolution of professional applications

Traditionally, APUs were integrated into motherboards to provide users with state-of-the-art graphics and a fully integrated solution that pushes past traditional high definition (HD) into the 4K realm. Professional users have demanded increased performance to drive their applications, and they regularly push the limits to achieve this.

apus_Sapphire (Source: Sapphire Technology)

The combination of a CPU (with its ability to enhance performance by cutting lag time) and a GPU (providing high-quality visuals) delivers more compelling content in digital signage as well as non-display applications like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). In fact, the latest APUs allow for much more robust design for demanding environments like robotics. What used to take a motherboard with a separate CPU and GPU can now be accomplished with a single APU-based motherboard consuming less power, occupying less space, and providing higher reliability.

Advertising and digital signage

Advertising is one industry benefiting from these more powerful APU-based embedded motherboards to enhance their digital signage capabilities. In the past, digital signage applications have relied heavily on simple PC platforms. CPUs are able to better the advertising experience by presenting the various facets of multimedia ads all at once, as well as assisting with the rise of interactive ads, whilst GPUs are improving the visuals within ads. Embedded systems have come a long way and, as a result, are now the preferred options for advertisers and designers.

Today’s embedded systems present considerable improvements in 2D and 3D graphic displays and video streaming. These embedded motherboards provide hardware accelerators for encoding, decoding, and transcoding data, thereby providing high-quality displays and superior performance. This can speed the process and help reduce costs. Embedded systems are generally “thinner,” meaning that the applications have a heightened control over the hardware, thereby contributing to the increased performance of the system. Additionally, APUs allow the manufacturers of these digital signs to replace physical and manual modeling with simulations.

Many digital signage deployments are intended to operate for a couple of years or even longer. They can be implemented in a range of different scenarios and environments, such as high temperatures or extreme weather conditions. Embedded systems are usually equipped to deal with these conditions, which is another reason why the advertising industry has adopted APU-based embedded systems for digital signage.

Innovation in the financial markets

The finance industry is experiencing the need for solutions that allow them to make smart decisions quicker than their competition. Companies within the financial sector are implementing the latest cutting-edge technologies to enable real-time analytics. Research and analytics are key components within this industry, which is where the mixture of CPUs and GPUs are able to assist in predicting market trends.

Through the implementation of APUs, data can be collected within a matter of seconds, including fraud analytics and risk management information. Calculating risk is a key priority for financial organizations, and APUs are able to cut the analysis time from hours to a matter of seconds. Such reductions in time increase an organization’s competitive advantage. Additionally, financial industries are under a lot of pressure to be able to detect and deter any fraudsters. APUs are able to disperse algorithms across a number of processors to detect abnormalities faster, which, in turn, helps deliver more accurate and reliable decisions.

The future of APUs

With technology evolving at breakneck speed, software and digital processing is expected to continue to benefit the embedded systems market. The future looks bright for APUs, as we expect to see growing numbers of industries depending heavily on top-quality displays and therefore adopting APU technology.

In addition, we can anticipate other applications and markets coming into play as APUs become more sophisticated and are able to accommodate emerging technologies such as AI and ML. These game-changing technologies could have a widespread impact on how multiple industries use APUs. While this is currently hypothetical, at the rate that the technology is evolving, we can almost certainly expect to see AI and ML driving the sector forward even more.

  • — Adrian Thompson is global VP of marketing at Sapphire Technology.*