Nvidia has released a new graphics architecture that it claims will work 100 times faster than traditional methods.

The CUDA (compute unified device architecture) technology allows developers to do numerical computation on the graphics processing units instead of relying on standard processors, and is aimed at heavy computational tasks such as product design, data analysis, technical computing and game physics. A CUDA-enabled processor recruits the graphics card's parallel data cache for numeric processing, harnessing up to 128 1.35GHz cores.

Nvidia is selling CUDA on its new GeForce 8800 graphics card, and will use the technology on future Quadro Professional Graphics products, it said. The company is also offering a C-compiler for GPUs, another feature they hope will lure developers to use more graphics processing units.

Nvidia engineers created the new architecture while designing a new graphics platform for the new family of Intel quad-core chips, due next week. Multiple-core chips can break a task into several threads and perform them simultaneously, saving time and power compared to standard techniques. In a similar pattern, an application using CUDA technology would use the graphics processor to solve fine-grained data-processing problems, and use the multi-core processor to solve coarser tasks like data management, Nvidia said.

By using its graphics cards to carry some of the workload of standard processors, Nvidia is also opening a new front in its competition with long-time rival ATI Technologies. ATI was acquired in October by chip vendor AMD, which immediately announced plans to create hybrid graphics chips and CPUs.

Nvidia also announced this week it would acquire PortalPlayer, a maker of semi-conductors and software for digital music players. Taken together, its recent moves mark a clear signal that Nvidia plans to survive as a stand-alone graphics company by maximizing its opportunities to provide technology for new applications, said IDC senior research analyst Ida Rose Sylvester.

"Nvidia seems to be positioning itself this week for a strong future," she said. "By staying strong in gaming, but exploring newer areas for the company, such as multi-media handhelds and industrial applications, Nvidia appears to be staying focused on graphics expertise, using it as leverage into these other applications."