Larrabee Fails To Impress
What’s been somewhat absent is any in-depth discussion of Larrabee, Intel’s much-anticipated graphics processor. Intel did offer a brief update: software development kits (SDKs) are out in the wild now. During the afternoon keynote, there was a very brief public demo of Larrabee. The demo was running on Larrabee hardware using Intel’s own SDK, not on DirectX or OpenGL.
The platform was a 32nm Gulftown (six-core) CPU. The demo was an almost real-time ray tracing demo based on Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The demo has been shown in the past, although this particular iteration was (supposedly) running on actual Larrabee hardware. It looked to be running at maybe ten frames per second.
Drawing any conclusions would be premature, though. We really need to see performance on DirectX or OpenGL games. But it’s certainly an inauspicious demo, and if anything was clear from the demo, Larrabee still has a long ways to go.
That demo actually raises more questions than it answers. If this is all Intel has to show for Larrabee, then you have to question whether or not Larrabee is in some trouble. With AMD about to ship its first DirectX 11 processor (Ed.: keep an eye out tonight), Intel’s anemic Larrabee demo leaves us wondering whether Intel can really deliver enough performance to make Larrabee a success.
A Pothole in the Roadmap?
By day’s end, Intel gave its annual CPU roadmap presentation. What’s really interesting from the mainstream processor perspective is how Intel is partitioning the desktop CPU market. Let’s look at what Intel is planning for 32nm:
High-end CPU: Six-core, 12-thread Gulftown CPU. These CPUs should drop into existing X58 (LGA 1366) boards with a BIOS update.
Clarkdale: Dual-core, four-thread CPU with an updated version of Intel graphics on the CPU package (not yet on the actual CPU die).
There are two holes in this desktop roadmap. First, there’s no quad-core 32nm CPU. That means no Lynnfield successor on 32nm; or at least, nothing Intel was willing to disclose. The flip-side of this is the lack of integrated graphics for Lynnfield. While the Lynnfield CPU can drop into any LGA 1156 interface, any motherboard with graphics output will still require a discrete graphics card, since the integrated graphics no longer live in the chipset.
If that sounds confusing, it is confusing. You could guess at the possible existence of a de-featured Gulftown in an LGA 1156 package, but it’s unlikely you’ll see integrated graphics on a quad- core, eight-thread CPU. When you combine the lack of a quad-core successor to Lynnfield and no integrated graphics for Lynnfield, you get what seems like a large hole in Intel’s desktop product line.
Intel Tries to Intimidate Less
In some ways, it’s almost as if Intel focusing on making things smaller, and making small things makes the company seem smaller. That's smaller in the sense of being less threatening.
Between AMD’s increasing marginalization as it gets pushed into the low-cost segment of the desktop and mobile processor market and Nvidia’s woes on the graphics side, Intel really needs to seem less threatening. After waking up on the first day of IDF to headlines in the San Jose Mercury News reading “Notes Paint Intel as Industry Bully,” seeming smaller may be Intel’s design.
For more on our trip around the show floor, check out Uwe Scheffel's picture gallery of IDF 2009!