The lowdown on Intel's Larrabee

The lowdown on Intel's Larrabee

Summary: With Siggraph 2008 starting next week and IDF (Intel Developer Forum) on its heels, Intel is revealing more details of its mysterious Larrabee project. Intel has finally stated unequivocally that its "many-core" architecture will be used in desktop add-in boards for 3D gaming that compete directly with AMD and Nvidia GPUs--at least initially, though there are other applications as well.

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TOPICS: Intel, Processors
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With Siggraph 2008 starting next week and IDF (Intel Developer Forum) on its heels, Intel is revealing more details of its mysterious Larrabee project. Intel has finally stated unequivocally that its "many-core" architecture will be used in desktop add-in boards for 3D gaming that compete directly with AMD and Nvidia GPUs--at least initially, though there are other applications as well.

The latest presentation has a lot of technical detail on the architecture--which is very different from the typical massively-parallel GPU--but it raises as many questions as it answers. The exact number of cores (8 to 32?), the size of the chip, how much power it will consume, and of course how it will actually perform on 3D games all remain big question marks. In his Speeds and Feeds blog, Peter N.Glaskowsky notes that a Larrabee chip with 32 1GHz cores could theoretically exceed a teraflop--around the performance of today's fastest GPUs, Nvidia's GX280 and AMD's ATI Radeon HD 4870--but it would probably be commercially impractical even for Intel. Curiously there's little mention of ray-tracing anymore. Larrabee uses the same DirectX and OpenGL APIs as ordinary GPUs to run games, but it goes about it in a very different way; Ars Technica has a nice analysis of how Larrabee renders 3D frames in software, rather than in hardware as in a GPU.

Since Larrabee-based add-in boards won't be available until early 2010, it is little surprise that product details are still sketchy, and it is too early to tell how it will really stack up to true discrete GPUs , a market completely dominated by AMD and Nvidia. Intel has failed here before, but given its vast resources, you can't count it out. In a research note, industry analyst Jon Peddie predicted that Intel will ship 46 million Larrabee "GPUs" in 2010. The total market for discrete GPUs was 350 million units last year.

More coverage of Larrabee:

Topics: Intel, Processors

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