Intel Takes on AMD/ATI, NVIDIA in Graphics

In an architectural briefing today, Intel's VP and Director Steve Smith talked about Intel's direction with Nehalem, multi-core processors and highly programmable architectures. With information about Nehalem available to the public in great detail, the highlight topic of the conference was Larrabee, Intel's entry into discrete graphics.

Smith commented that the graphics industry faced several issues: higher performance, power usage, multi-cores, and being programmable. (Compare Prices on Graphics Cards)

Based on decades of CPU design experience, Intel will make an official entry into the programmable GPU market with Larrabee. According to official Intel documents, Larrabee will consist of multiple IA programmable cores. Larrabee will also be an optimized vector GPU. Although current generation processors have some vector processing capabilities, Larrabee will have many IA processing units applying conditions on multiple data elements simultaneously. Smith avoided calling Larrabee a GPU and instead classified it as a VPU, or vector processing unit.

Larrabee will thrust Intel into the discrete graphics market in a very large way. Not only does Intel plan to compete directly with NVIDIA and AMD/ATI in terms of straight graphics processing, it also plans to deliver physics processing on a discrete Larrabee solution. Smith hinted at physics processing as being one of the key strengths of Larrabee's design.

In terms of industry support, Larrabee will be fully compatible with existing DirectX and OpenGL standards. Smith mentioned in passing that Intel is following closely with future roadmaps for DirectX and OpenGL and will more than likely support anything beyond DirectX 10.

Power consumption was also a topic of discussion. Smith mentioned that current discrete graphics solutions consume way too much power, with some products approaching 140 watts or more. With Larrabee, Smith said "[Intel] can produce whole platforms for less than 140 watts." With Larrabee eventually making its way into mobile platforms, Intel's focus on making the GPU power efficient is high on its list.

When asked about Intel's expected position in the market against NVIDIA and AMD/ATI, Smith said that "[Intel] will do well."