OpenCL basics: Multiple OpenCL devices with the ICD.

XeonPhi, Tesla, FirePro

Most systems nowadays have more than just one OpenCL device and often from different vendors. How can they all coexist from a programming standpoint? How do they interact?

OpenCL platforms and OpenCL devices

Firstly, please bear with me for a few words about OpenCL devices and OpenCL platforms.

An OpenCL platform usually corresponds to a vendor. This is responsible for providing the OpenCL implementation for its devices. For instance, a machine with an i7-4790 Intel CPU is going to have one OpenCL platform, probably named “Intel OpenCL” and this platform will include two OpenCL devices: one is the Intel CPU itself and the other is the Intel HD Graphics 4600 GPU. This Intel OpenCL platform is providing the OpenCL implementation for the two devices and is responsible for managing them.

Let’s have another example, but this time from outside the Windows ecosystem. A MacBook running OS X and having both the Intel Iris Pro GPU and a dedicated GeForce card will show one single OpenCL platform called “Apple”. The two GPUs and the CPU will appear as devices belonging to this platform. That’s because the “Apple” platform is the one providing the OpenCL implementation for all three devices.

Last but not least, keep in mind that:

  • An OpenCL platform can have one or several devices.
  • The same device can have one or several OpenCL implementations from different vendors. In other words, an OpenCL device can belong to more than just one platform.
  • The OpenCL version of the platform is not necessarily the same with the OpenCL version of the device.

The OpenCL ICD

ICD stands for Installable Client Driver and it refers to a model allowing several OpenCL platforms to coexist. It is actually not a core-functionality, but an extension to OpenCL.

  • For Windows and Linux the ICD has been available since OpenCL 1.0.
  • OSX doesn’t have an ICD at all. Apple chose to put all the drivers themselves under one host.
  • Android did not have the extension under OpenCL 1.1, but people ported its functionality. With OpenCL 2.0 the ICD is also on Android.

How does this model work?

ICD Diagram
The OpenCL ICD on Windos

While a machine can have several OpenCL platforms, each with its own driver and OpenCL version, there is always just one ICD Loader. The ICD Loader acts as a supervisor for all installed OpenCL platforms and provides a unique entry point for all OpenCL calls. Based on the platform id, it dispatches the OpenCL host calls to the right driver.

This way you can compile against the ICD (opencl.dll on Windows or on Linux), not directly to all the possible drivers. At run-time, an OpenCL application will search for the ICD and load it. The ICD in turn looks in the registry (Windows) or a special directory (Linux) to find the registered OpenCL drivers. Each OpenCL call from your software will be resolved by the ICD, which will further dispatch requests to the selected OpenCL platform.

A few things to keep in mind

The ICD gets installed on your system together with the drivers of the OpenCL devices. Hence, a driver update can also result in an update of the ICD itself. To avoid problems, an OS can decide to handle the OpenCL itself.

Please note that the ICD, the platform and the OpenCL library linked against the application may not necessarily correspond to the same OpenCL version.

I hope this explains how the ICD works. If you have any question or suggestion, just leave a comment. Also check out the Khronos page for the ICD extension. And if you need the sources to build your own ICD (with license that allows you to distribute it with your software), check the OpenCL registry on Khronos.

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5 thoughts on “OpenCL basics: Multiple OpenCL devices with the ICD.

  1. Pingback: Build and Run OpenCL Application with AMD APP SDK and Installable Client Driver Loader through HelloWorld Sample « Binglong's space

  2. Goku

    Pardon me for previous comment.
    I want to know, how ICD is loaded by application at runtime? do we have to write an explicit routine to do that?

    • StreamHPC

      You need to link against the OpenCL library (ICD). So just compile with “g++ -o hello hello.cpp -lOpenCL”.

  3. tivadj

    It seems that on Windows, OpenCL.dll gets platforms (vendors) list from the registry:

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