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I'm able to find many definitions and notions to this term including,

  • Implementing the algorithm (or part of it) in hardware :- Instructions like FMAD; FPGAs
  • Parallelizing the algorithm at the hardware level :- SIMD, GPU etc.

So, what exactly is Hardware Acceleration ?

I would like to understand the meaning of the word to not sound ambiguous in technical discussions.

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Hardware acceleration means any code run on specialized hardware, as opposed to software run on general purpose CPUs such as standard x86 processors on your PC.

I suppose the term is inherently ambiguous (e.g. does SSE count as hardware acceleration?), and probably means different specific things in different industries. The Wikipedia page is a good starting point. As a member of the scientific computing community, when I hear "hardware acceleration" I instantly think GPU acceleration of numerical algorithms, and my second thought is FPGA numerical implementations. But for example, hardware implementations of video codecs can also be considered hardware acceleration.

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