High Performance Direct Gravitational N-body Simulations on Graphics Processing Unit I: An implementation in Cg

Simon Portegies Zwart, Robert Belleman, Peter Geldof
Section Computational Science, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
New Astronomy, Volume 12, Issue 8, p. 641-650, arXiv:astro-ph/0702058 (2 Feb 2007)


   title={High Performance Direct Gravitational N-body Simulations on Graphics Processing Unit I: An implementation in Cg},

   author={Zwart, S.P. and Belleman, R. and Geldof, P.},

   journal={Arxiv preprint astro-ph/0702058},



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We present the results of gravitational direct $N$-body simulations using the commercial graphics processing units (GPU) NVIDIA Quadro FX1400 and GeForce 8800GTX, and compare the results with GRAPE-6Af special purpose hardware. The force evaluation of the $N$-body problem was implemented in Cg using the GPU directly to speed-up the calculations. The integration of the equations of motions were, running on the host computer, implemented in C using the 4th order predictor-corrector Hermite integrator with block time steps. We find that for a large number of particles ($N apgt 10^4$) modern graphics processing units offer an attractive low cost alternative to GRAPE special purpose hardware. A modern GPU continues to give a relatively flat scaling with the number of particles, comparable to that of the GRAPE. The GRAPE is designed to reach double precision, whereas the GPU is intrinsically single-precision. For relatively large time steps, the total energy of the N-body system was conserved better than to one in $10^6$ on the GPU, which is impressive given the single-precision nature of the GPU. For the same time steps, the GRAPE gave somewhat more accurate results, by about an order of magnitude. However, smaller time steps allowed more energy accuracy on the grape, around $10^{-11}$, whereas for the GPU machine precision saturates around $10^{-6}$ For $Napgt 10^6$ the GeForce 8800GTX was about 20 times faster than the host computer. Though still about a factor of a few slower than GRAPE, modern GPUs outperform GRAPE in their low cost, long mean time between failure and the much larger onboard memory; the GRAPE-6Af holds at most 256k particles whereas the GeForce 8800GTX can hold 9 million particles in memory.
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