AI workload

Does All AI Workload Requires GPUs? An Exploration of Cost-effective Alternatives

In recent years, the field of artificial intelligence (AI) has witnessed exponential growth and innovation. GPUs have traditionally been the primary hardware choice for accelerating AI tasks due to their parallel computing capabilities. According to a report, the global GPU market was valued at $19.76 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $201.11 billion by 2027, indicating the widespread adoption of GPUs in AI applications. However, the AI hardware landscape is dynamic, prompting researchers and industry professionals to seek cost-effective alternatives that can match or surpass GPUs' performance. While GPUs are renowned for their parallel processing power, there are instances where they may not offer the most cost-effective solution.

In response to this demand for efficient, affordable, and high-performance hardware, researchers and enterprises are increasingly exploring alternative options. This trend has given rise to a diverse range of substitutes, each tailored to specific use cases and requirements. For instance, AMD GPUs have gained traction for their competitive performance and energy efficiency in certain niches, like gaming and professional applications. Additionally, specialized solutions such as ASICs and TPUs have emerged as viable alternatives for specific AI workloads, offering enhanced power efficiency and performance for targeted tasks.

This shift towards exploring alternatives to GPUs reflects a strategic approach by the industry to optimize hardware selection based on factors like cost-effectiveness, performance, and scalability. As the AI hardware ecosystem continues to evolve, the quest for solutions that strike a balance between efficiency, affordability, and effectiveness remains a key focus for researchers and businesses alike.


AMD presents a robust alternative to the dominant NVIDIA GPUs, particularly notable for their strengths in energy efficiency and scalability. The RDNA architecture, central to AMD's GPU offerings, emphasizes these characteristics, rendering them suitable for a wide spectrum of applications ranging from gaming to professional endeavors. The competitive pricing of AMD GPUs makes them an attractive choice for those seeking a balance between performance and affordability.

ASICs and TPUs:

For AI tasks demanding specialized solutions, Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) have emerged as formidable contenders. These bespoke hardware solutions are engineered to excel at particular workloads, offering unparalleled efficiency and performance. Examples include Amazon's Nitro chips and Google's TPUs, which leverage their architectural optimizations to deliver exceptional results in fields like machine learning and inference tasks.

Intel's Offerings:

Intel, a stalwart in the semiconductor industry, is making significant strides in the GPU market with its Xe HPC GPUs. These graphics processors are tailored for high-performance computing applications, catering to the demands of intensive AI workloads. Furthermore, Intel's OneAPI initiative aims to streamline the development process by providing a unified programming model across diverse hardware components. This approach not only simplifies software development but also enhances compatibility and portability across different computing environments.

CPU vs. GPU: A Comprehensive Comparison

CPU Advantages

CPUs, being more cost-effective and widely available compared to GPUs, play a crucial role in AI applications that are challenging to parallelize or demand substantial memory capacities. According to a study, the global CPU market was valued at $89.9 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $113.1 billion by 2026, underscoring the significance of CPUs in the computing industry. They demonstrate superiority in tasks like recommender systems, classical machine learning algorithms, and real-time inference due to their versatility and ability to handle diverse workloads efficiently.

Efficiency Considerations

While GPUs offer remarkable speed enhancements for parallel tasks, CPUs remain indispensable for specific AI algorithms that involve intricate logic or intensive memory requirements. Optimizing algorithms for CPUs can significantly boost efficiency and productivity. A report highlights that by 2023, over 80% of enterprise AI projects will be built on a combination of CPUs, GPUs, and specialized accelerators, emphasizing the continued relevance of CPUs in AI development.

Initial Development

In the early stages of development, such as proof-of-concept or minimum viable product creation, opting for CPUs can be a more cost-effective approach compared to GPUs. CPUs serve well for testing and staging servers until the transition to GPUs becomes necessary for production environments. This flexibility allows developers to iterate quickly and refine their AI models without incurring high hardware costs upfront.

On-Premises Options

When evaluating on-premises implementations, renowned vendors like NVIDIA and AMD provide GPU solutions tailored for AI workloads. NVIDIA stands out in this domain due to its CUDA toolkit, which simplifies deep learning processes and enhances the performance of GPU-accelerated applications. Additionally, AMD's ROCm platform offers an open-source alternative for GPU computing, providing developers with more options for their AI projects. Both NVIDIA and AMD continue to innovate and improve their GPU solutions, making them attractive choices for on-premises AI implementations.

AI Workloads Suited for CPUs

Recommender Systems:

Training and inference tasks for recommender systems that require greater memory for embedding layers are better suited for CPUs due to their ability to handle complex mathematical calculations quickly.

Classical Machine Learning Algorithms:

Algorithms that are difficult to parallelize for GPUs, such as classical machine learning algorithms, find CPUs more suitable. CPUs excel at handling algorithm-intensive tasks that do not support parallel processing effectively.

Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs):

RNNs that rely on sequential data are more efficiently processed on CPUs. The nature of sequential data processing aligns well with the capabilities of CPUs, making them a suitable choice for such workloads.

Models Using Large Data Samples:

Tasks involving large-scale data samples, like 3D data for training and inference, are better handled by CPUs. CPUs can manage these tasks effectively without the need for parallel processing, making them a preferred choice in such scenarios.

Real-Time Inference:

Algorithms that do not parallelize easily and require real-time inference benefit from CPUs. Tasks like real-time inference and machine learning algorithms that do not lend themselves well to parallel processing find CPUs more suitable due to their sequential processing capabilities.

Complex Statistical Computations:

CPUs are useful for tasks that require sequential algorithms or perform complex statistical computations. While modern AI applications often favor GPUs for efficiency and speed, some data scientists still prefer CPUs for specific tasks relying on serial processing or logic instead of statistical computations.

AI Workloads Suited for GPUs

Neural Networks:

GPUs excel in training neural networks due to their ability to process large amounts of data in parallel. The parallel processing power of GPUs significantly speeds up the training process for deep learning models.

Deep Learning Operations:

GPUs are well-suited for accelerated AI and deep learning operations that require massive parallel inputs of data. Their ability to handle large-scale data processing efficiently makes them ideal for these tasks.

Traditional AI Inference and Training Algorithms:

For tasks involving traditional AI inference and training algorithms, GPUs provide the raw computational power necessary to process vast amounts of data effectively. The parallel processing capabilities of GPUs make them indispensable for these workloads.

AI workload

High Data Throughput:

GPUs can perform the same operation on many data points in parallel, enabling them to process large volumes of data at unmatched speeds compared to CPUs. This high data throughput capability is crucial for AI workloads that involve processing extensive datasets.

Massive Parallelism:

With hundreds of cores, GPUs can perform massively parallel calculations like matrix multiplications efficiently. This feature is particularly beneficial for specialized tasks such as deep learning, big data analytics, and genomic sequencing.

Specialized Use Cases:

GPUs provide massive acceleration for specialized tasks within AI, making them suitable for a wide range of applications beyond traditional computing tasks. Tasks like deep learning, big data analytics, genomic sequencing, and more benefit from the specialized capabilities of GPUs.

Advantages of CPUs for AI workloads


CPUs are flexible and can handle a variety of tasks outside of AI, making them versatile for different applications.


They are more cost-effective than GPUs, particularly for large-scale AI applications.


They can work on mid-range mathematical equations with a higher level of precision, making them suitable for specific applications.

Access to Memory:

CPUs usually contain significant local cache memory, which allows them to handle a larger set of linear instructions and more complex system and computational operations.

Contextual Power:

CPUs are faster when handling several different types of system operations, such as random-access memory, mid-range computational operations, managing an operating system, and I/O operations.

Disadvantages of CPUs for AI Workloads

Parallel Processing:

CPUs cannot handle parallel processing like GPUs, which can choke their capacity to process data.

Slow Evolution:

The development of more powerful CPUs will eventually slowdown, which means less improvement year after year.


Not every system or piece of software is compatible with every processor, which presents issues between PCs and mobile devices.

Power Consumption:

CPUs can consume a large amount of power for processing heavy AI requirements.

Power and Complexity:

While CPUs can handle large amounts of parallel computing and data throughput, they struggle when the processing requirements become more chaotic. Branching logic paths, sequential operations, and other approaches to computing impede the effectiveness of a CPU.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Between GPUs and CPUs for AI Workloads

Parallel Processing Needs:

Consider the level of parallel processing required for your AI workload. GPUs excel at parallel processing tasks, making them ideal for workloads that involve massive parallelism and high data throughput.


Evaluate the cost implications of using GPUs versus CPUs. While GPUs offer superior performance for certain tasks, they are generally more expensive than CPUs. Assess your budget and the cost-effectiveness of each option based on your specific AI workload requirements.

Type of Algorithms:

Analyze the type of algorithms your AI workload involves. CPUs are better suited for algorithm-intensive tasks that do not support parallel processing effectively, while GPUs are ideal for tasks that can be parallelized efficiently.

Memory Requirements:

Consider the memory requirements of your AI workload. CPUs may be more suitable for tasks with high memory requirements, such as recommender systems with embedding layers, while GPUs are preferred for tasks with large data volumes that require high data throughput.

Specialized Use Cases:

Determine if your AI workload involves specialized tasks like deep learning, big data analytics, or genomic sequencing. GPUs provide massive acceleration for such specialized tasks, making them a preferred choice in these scenarios.

Energy Consumption:

Evaluate the energy consumption of GPUs and CPUs for your AI workload. Energy-efficient hardware can lead to cost savings in the long run. Consider the energy efficiency of each option based on your workload's requirements and operational constraints.

Processing Power:

Assess the processing power required for your data analytics tasks. CPUs and GPUs offer different levels of processing power, so choose based on the nature of your workload and the computational resources needed.

Storage and Memory:

Consider the amount of storage and memory required based on the size of your data sets. Larger data sets may necessitate more storage and memory capacity, influencing your choice between GPUs and CPUs.

By considering factors such as parallel processing needs, cost, type of algorithms, memory requirements, specialized use cases, energy consumption, processing power, storage, and memory capacity, you can make an informed decision when choosing between GPUs and CPUs for your AI workloads.

In conclusion, the comparison between CPUs and GPUs for AI workloads reveals a nuanced landscape where each hardware option offers distinct advantages based on specific requirements. While CPUs are cost-effective, versatile, and essential for certain AI algorithms, GPUs excel in parallel processing tasks and high-speed computations. The significant market sizes anticipated for both CPUs and GPUs, which demonstrate the evolving AI hardware ecosystem, highlight the dynamic nature of technology adoption in the field of artificial intelligence. Ultimately, the synergy between CPUs and GPUs, along with emerging alternatives like ASICs and TPUs, highlights the importance of a balanced approach to hardware utilization in AI workloads. By leveraging the strengths of different hardware components based on specific use cases and requirements, organizations can harness the full potential of artificial intelligence technologies to drive innovation and efficiency in diverse industries.