The Evangelist

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Intel is the world's leading producer of Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) with their Intel Graphics Media Accelerator products. Their GMA products are often included in lower-end laptops and desktops because they are cheap and offer reasonable performance. They have garnered much criticism, however, from those who value graphics performance. Nvidia and ATI integrated graphics consistently perform better when compared to GMA GPUs, and their dedicated (discreet) GPUs blow them out of the water.

This would appear to be why Intel is developing a GPU under the codename Larrabee. Larrabee will compete with both Nvidia and ATI's dedicated and GPGPU high-performance computing products. It is thought that Larrabee will be released in either late 2009 or early 2010, although we will probably see more of Larrabee before then.

Larrabee is almost a combination of a CPU and GPU. They use the x86 microarchitecture, like standard Intel processors. It has a coherent cache hierarchy, also like CPUs. But it also has GPU-like features. It will support 3D graphics such as OpenGL and DirectX for games.

The fact that Larabee is a hybrid card could allow it to prove useful for GPGPU and stream processing applications. This could make Larrabee useful in supercomputers for scientific processing such as ray tracing and physics processing. This will help Intel compete with AMD's ATI FireStream and NVIDIA's Tesla in high-performance computing.

Larabee is in some ways similar to IBM's Cell. It is designed to have many small cores that can perform different tasks, perhaps more efficiently than one core made to do it all. There are differences as well. I won't elaborate much on this, but needless to say that while they have similarities, they are meant for different applications.

This will make Intel's offerings reflect those of AMD's ATI and Nvidia more and allow Intel to compete in the dedicated graphics market. With Intel's close relations with many manufacturers, it seems likely that they can get these chips in the market. The question in the end will be how well they perform compared to products from ATI and Nividia. Price will also factor in; it will be interesting to see whether or not Larrabee will be priced competitively. It will also be interesting to see whether or not Intel tries to market these products as ATI and Nvidia do to enthusiasts and sell them individual to system builders and those wishing to upgrade their video card. It will also be interesting to see if Intel will try to offer something similar to Crossfire from ATI or SLI from Nividia. Without support for multiple GPUs, if Intel doesn't have a single product that can outperform the other companies' cards enthusiasts will likely shun Larrabee, at least until Intel gets things together. At any rate, it will be very interesting to see how things play out.


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