Sunday, March 9, 2008

Intel to Be More Active in the Graphics Market

At Intel Investor Meeting held today the company official touched upon the whole lot of interesting questions. However, the most intriguing report was made by Eric Mentzer, Vice President and General Manager Graphics Development Group, who shared the company’s plans concerning further expansion into the graphics market. The thing is that Intel managed to occupy a pretty significant market share thanks to its integrated chipsets and they are not going to stop at that, for sure.

In the near future Intel is going to improve the performance of their integrated graphics cores and to introduce their new high-performance solutions that will involve the resources of an additional processor also known these days as Larrabee.

The biggest change in the integrated graphics segment will be the move of the graphics cores from the chipset North Bridge into the CPU. It will happen when the inexpensive Nehalem processors also known as Havendale come out in the end of this year – beginning of next. As a result, integrated graphics cores will work faster with the memory subsystem, which will inevitably result into performance improvement for the low- to mid-range PC users. According to the forecasts made at the today’s meeting, by 2009 integrated graphics will work 6 times faster, while by 2010 it will be 10 times faster than in 2006, when the performance standard was set by i965G chipset. This still won't make integrated graphics a good choice for serious gamers, but it should make the operating systems work smoother, HD playback work better, and casual games look good.

Nevertheless, Intel is also considering to offer high-performance graphics solutions. They are going to introduce systems using an additional Larrabee processor that will enhance the potential of the integrated graphics cores. The developers describe this solution as highly parallelized micro-architecture with tremendous programming flexibility. In fact, Larrabee will consist of a several IA mini-cores with shared cache-memory and input-output system.

According to some preliminary data, the first Larrabee version will have from 16 to 24 cores, each with a 32KB L1 cache. The shared L2 cache will be about 4-6MB big. Individual IA cores will be connected via ring bus like the one used in Cell processors. The first Larrabee modifications will be manufactured with 45nm technological process, and the working frequencies of these processors are expected to be in the 1.7-2.5GHz interval. The expected TDP should be around 150W, however, please keep in mind that these are all very preliminary specifications.

This processor should allow the game developers to use image rendering techniques involving ray-tracing method. This method guarantees more realism than the traditional rasterization although requires much more computational resources than the contemporary systems can offer. The first Larrabee processors are expected to appear in the end of this year, however the first mass solutions of this class should come out no sooner than in the end of 2009 – beginning of 2010.

However, Intel is going to make the first moves towards increasing their influence in the graphics market in Q2 2008 already, when they announce integrated G45 and G43 chipsets with the new GMA X4500HD graphics core and its modifications. This core will be targeting 3.0x the 3D performance of the Intel G33 chipset and 1.7x the 3D performance of the G35 chipset, and will also provide HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback experience with full bit-rate support and strong content protection. Intel GMA X4500HD core will support DirectX 10, and the chipsets featuring it should be able to support all contemporary interfaces including HDMI, DisplayPort and DVI.

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