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What is the difference between software and GPU rendering?

Many of us have heard of software rendering and GPU rendering, but what are they and which is best for you?

CPU Rendering

An important concept is all rendering involves both software and hardware.  What is often referred to as software rendering is more accurately CPU rendering.  Meaning the processing is happening on the processor of your computer.  Now this may or may not slow down other parts of your computer.  That really depends on the application, but in general most professional video applications render on separate threads from other basic applications like email and your web browser.  This is why often you can start a render, then hop into another application.

Software Rendering, could also be looked at as ‘general purpose’ it’s just grabbing whatever processing power you have and working.

GPU Rendering

GPU Rendering utilizes available supported GPUs and sends certain render tasks to the GPU rather than the CPU.  GPUs are simply graphics cards with processing built in.  Common graphics includes GeForce, AMD Radeon & the gold standard in professional video applications NVIDIA Quadro.  The advantage to GPU Rendering is two fold.

  1. GPU Rendering takes almost no processing power from your workstation, meaning you will have greater performance for other tasks while rendering.
  2. GPU Rendering is usually more tuned for faster rendering.  Commonly taking advantage of CUDA cores, which allow for more tasks to be completed concurrently.

The key element to maximizing your rendering speed, which is what your goal should be, is to look at your software packages and see what GPUs are supported and what type of tasks they are supported for.  The more you align your software choices with the right GPU the faster you will be able to work.