Intel Developer Forum, Day One: Intel Thinks Small

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!

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13 comments
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  • burnley14
    The technology develops so quick that it's hard to convince myself to buy what's out now. It's going to be dated in like 3 months :(

    But progress is always good. Keep up the good work Intel!
  • ravewulf
    So to sum up, Intel is hard at work making things smaller, they still probably suck at making GPUs, and are trying to hide in shame a little bit at their past practices. Did I forget to mention anything?
  • nukemaster
    Progress is sweeeeet!
  • Pei-chen
    ravewulfSo to sum up, Intel is hard at work making things smaller, they still probably suck at making GPUs, and are trying to hide in shame a little bit at their past practices. Did I forget to mention anything?

    If you can't see the need for competition and advancement, maybe you should explore other, more timeless hobby such as amateur stone grinding.

    For the rest of us, we like to see technology progress.
  • kelfen
    many smalls things make a big thing
  • masterjaw
    I would suspend judgment until something more meaningful has come up with this project of Intel. Making things smaller is good, but making it work better is an another story.
  • Ehsan w
    we can't deny, things HAVE to be smaller in the future
  • JonnyDough
    Quote:
    But it’s certainly an inauspicious demo, and if anything was clear from the demo, Larrabee still has a long ways to go.


    I think you mean "long WAY to go." I'm going to run aways from you, you bad bad grammarman yous.
  • JonnyDough
    Intel IS a bully. I love what they're doing, I just don't like how they go about it sometimes. We need competition. Period. If Intel gets too big, I'd rather it tumble and leave two smaller competitors in its place. In the long run it will be better for consumers.
  • eyemaster
    Intel is looking promising as far as tech goes right now. They really upped their game in the recent years. Sucks for AMD, I like AMD, dislike Intel, but there's no denying who's on top.
  • Ehsan w
    lol +1 for JonnyDough XD
  • Ehsan w
    I sense robot's in the near future....
    that can pick up dogcrap, and that's all....
  • randomizer
    CPUs can do "almost realtime" ray tracing as well. It's called a progressive ray tracer. Hard to tell exactly what they used here because the camera isn't moving. A progressive ray tracer would be very obvious if they moved the camera, and if it looked grainy or unrefined while moving then you know they are only tracing a relatively small number of rays per second to improve the "framerate"