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Working silicon of Larrabee, Intel's upcoming 2010 discrete GPU was shown running a ray-traced scene from id Software's Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The GPU will become the only desktop GPU based on an x86 architecture. Intel brags of its efficiency, saying the water effects (reflections, transparency, etc.) were accomplished with only 10 lines of C++ code.  (Source: CNET/YouTube)
Intel prepares to jump into the discrete graphics market

In the 1990s a plethora of graphics chip makers rose and fell.  Eventually only two were left standing -- NVIDIA and ATI.  ATI would later be acquired by AMD.  Though AMD was in a fierce battle with Intel in the multicore era, it also managed to score some points in the last generation graphics war with its 4000 series cards (RV770). 

Before this happened a third player, Intel, had attacked the market and quietly built up a dominant marketshare in low-end graphics. Its integrated GPUs popped up on netbooks, low end laptops, and even a number of low-end desktops.  Now the graphics market seems poised to flip yet again.  NVIDIA is on the verge of seizing much of Intel's low-end and mobile marketshare, thanks to its Ion platform and new mobile GPUs.  And AMD (ATI) looks poised to attack in the latest round of the discrete graphics wars with aggressively priced DirectX 11 GPUs.  That leaves Intel, which is preparing to take on NVIDIA and AMD with a brand new discrete graphics offering called Larrabee.

First revealed at SIGGRAPH in August of 2008, Larrabee is now reality.  Intel has just shown off working models of Larrabee GPUs at its Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.

Built on a multicore die-shrink of Intel's Pentium 54C architecture, the powerful new graphics chip was able to render a ray-traced scene from the id Software game, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, with ease.  Ray-tracing is an advanced technique that has long been touted as an eventual replacement to rasterization in video games.  Currently it is used for the high quality 3D animation found in many films.

The demo also gave a peak at Gulftown, a 6 core, Core i9 processor. Built on the new upcoming Westmere architecture (a Nehalem die shrink), Gulftown is the "extreme edition" counterpart of Clarkdale (desktop) and Arrandale (laptop). 

Larrabee, however received the most interest.  The working chip was said to be on par with NVIDIA's GTX 285.  With AMD's latest offerings trouncing the GTX 285 in benchmarks, the real question will be the power envelope, how many Larrabees Intel can squeeze on a graphics board, what kind of Crossfire/SLI-esque scheme it can devise, and most importantly the price.

A direct comparison between NVIDIA's GTX 285 and Larrabee is somewhat misleading, though, because Larrabee is unique in several ways.  First Larrabee supports x86 instructions.  Secondly, it uses tile-based rendering to accomplish task like z-buffering, clipping, and blending that its competitors do in hardware, with software instead (Microsoft's Xbox 360 works this way too).  Third, all of its cores have cache coherency.  All of these features stack up to (in theory) make Larrabee easier to program games for than NVIDIA and AMD's discrete offerings.

The GPU also still has some time to grow and be fine tuned. It's not expected until the first half of 2010.  Intel is just now lining up board partners for the new card, so it should be interesting to see which companies jump on the bandwagon.

At IDF Intel also gave hints at the rest of its upcoming graphics plans.  It says that it's preparing to take a "big jump ahead" in integrated graphics with an upcoming product to be released next year, which will compete with the NVIDIA Ion.  Intel is also preparing a system-on-a-chip package with Larrabee and an Intel x86 processor, which it is using to target the mobile and handheld devices market. 

It's unclear, though, how low Intel can push the embedded Larrabee's power envelope or when the SoC will arrive.  It did make it clear, though, that it is targeting the chip for "non-PC" applications.



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"Larrabee easier to program"?
By Integral9 on 9/29/2009 7:55:02 AM , Rating: 2
Umm... aren't most games written in DirectX? I thought there was basically two choices; DirectX and OpenGL and little bit of CG floating around.

Also, aside from the obvious driver mountain Intel is going to have climb, they've got another huge mountain to climb with the brand loyal gamers out there. Not to mention the game companies... I know some people that would rather sell their index finger than trade their graphics card for the other brand's offering. And that's between two known and, honestly, very good graphics card companies.

Back to the driver issues. Intel's got quite a scape goat there. I can see it now:
Benchmark:
nVidia: 87 Gadgillion points
ATI: 87 Badgillion points
Intel: 42 points

Intel's response: "the test was done using bad drivers. Here try these."
nVidia & ATI: "They cheated with their drivers!"




"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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