Friday, September 21, 2007

Intel Details Graphics Processor Market Approach

During his keynote at Intel Developer Forum (IDF), the chief executive of the world’s largest maker of chips, Paul Otellini, outlined the company’s plans regarding improving performance of graphics processors. Intel confirmed that code-named Larrabee chip can process graphics as well, though, did not elaborate on the details.

Intel’s Integrated Graphics Cores Set to Improve

Intel left the market of discrete graphics processors back in the late nineties after the Intel 740 graphics adapter did not become a success. After that the company concentrated on creating very basic graphics cores to integrate into core-logic sets. Even though “integrated” should not necessarily mean “obsolete”, given that Intel used outdated process technologies for its chipsets, it had to reduce the transistor count aggressively, which negatively impacted performance of those graphics adapters. At the end, Intel found itself with integrated graphics cores that were hardly competitive against discrete graphics adapters. However, this is going to change.

Starting next year Intel will transit its chipsets to newer manufacturing technologies faster. As a result, it believes, the built-in graphics cores will feature more transistors, meaning better feature-set and performance.

“We’re changing that pace starting next year. We’ll bring 65 nanometers out early next year into the graphics, and take the graphics up by a factor of a little more than two here. In the second part of that generation, in 2009, you’ll see us move integrated graphics to 45nm. And at this point in time it becomes incorporated into the microprocessor, so it becomes part of the CPU, matching the technologies for graphics and microprocessors in the same silicon generation. That gets us more than a 6x boost from where we were last year,” said Paul Otellini, chief executive of Intel.

In 2010 the world’s No. 1 chipmaker will introduce its code-named Westmere central processing unit (CPU) with integrated graphics core, which will be made using 32nm process technology, that will be ten times faster compared to “today’s” integrated graphics cores.
“This is good, but it’s not good enough,” proclaimed Mr. Otellini.

Larrabee Moves Intel Into Discrete Graphics

In 2010 Intel will release its code-named Larrabee processor, which is projected to deliver teraflops performance and also be able to process graphics.
“What we are focusing on is another new product called Larrabee. […] It’s a highly parallel, many-core product comprised of an array of Intel architecture cores. We are well into development of this product today, and it’s our intention to be able to demonstrate that product in 2008,” explained the head of Intel.

Intel claims that Larrabee will be able to perform the current x86 code, but given its multi-core nature, will also be able to address other needs while retaining current programming model.
“We think this brings the benefits of Intel architecture in a many-core array to the high-performance, visual-computing segments of the marketplace. We’ll deliver teraflops of performance with this chip. And one of the things that we think is a unique advantage is that it will scale easily for software developers. It not only has the code compatibility of everything you’re familiar with in IA space, but will have a shared cache to be able to make that an easy programming model for you in the developing community,” according to Paul Otellini.
Intel believes that Larrabee will be used in supercomputing, in financial services, and physics and health applications.

“But it’s also got one more thing that it’s going to be very good at, and that’s graphics. And one of the beauties here is that it is not dependent on a new software paradigm. Again, the same existing programming models that you all know today will be applicable to this device as it moves us into discrete graphics,” said chief executive officer of Intel Corp.

Besides an array of computing cores, modern graphics processing units also feature texture units (TU), render back ends (RBEs) and other units. Intel did not unveil whether the Larrabee will have those units integrated, which means that the company may be planning to either enter the market of discrete graphics cards either with a multi-chip solution that features TUs, RBEs and other necessary units in a separate chip (or chips), or will require a special approach to program.

The computing power of Larrabee will be “teraflops” in 2010, meaning that it will be at four times the power compared to today’s ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT and Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX.

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