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Intel Lets Larrabee Loose


Intel Lets Larrabee Loose

We've all been waiting a long time to catch a glimpse of Intel's new graphics chip in action, and a glimpse is exactly what Sean Maloney gave the crowd at IDF today. Intel confirmed that Larrabee will be shipping as a discrete graphics solution, at least at first, with dev boxes already heading to software developers.

Maloney also confirmed that Larrabee will eventually be integrated into a CPU - integration was the watch word for Sean's keynote after all. But today's demo system comprised a discrete Larrabee chip along with Intel's Gulftown 32nm, six-core CPU, and with that kind of processing power it came as something of a surprise that the demo was so, well, disappointing.

The demo in question was basically Quake Wars: Enemy Territory being rendered in real time using ray tracing, and to say that it looked nothing special is an understatement. In fact, when aircraft entered the scene, it was clear that the frame rate was woefully low. Add to that the fact that the water effect resembled what you might see in a game five years ago, and I and many other journos were left wandering whether Larrabee will be worth the wait.

I'm not entirely sure what Intel's obsession is with real time ray tracing, especially since even a next generation, multi-core hardware platform can't seem to render it smoothly. Sometimes different isn't better, it's just different.


September 23, 2009, 1:31 pm

That perfectly sinusoidal water looks awful (reflections are good though). Where are the crashing waves or even ripples where the water interacts with the boat in the image? The only place you see perfect rolling surfaces like that are way out in deep water with nothing in the way! They would have been better just using a single large plane and pretending it was dead calm.

That said, haven't seen it in motion so can't comment on that. As you say, however, I'd expect more from a first public demo of a revolutionary graphics platform - perhaps running a real time ray tracing engine was a bridge too far?

Tarik Bos

September 23, 2009, 2:15 pm

ok first of all, rendering a game using ray tracing is impressive enough, even if it doesn't look that good. second if it doesn't look that good that has nothing to do with ray tracing but more with the inability of modern hardware to real time render a complex and therefor good looking image using ray tracing. at this point they can do one but not both real time. third, whats intel's obsession with ray stracing?! seriously if you don't know that you haven't done your homework... ray tracing is the future! were currently reaching the limits of the current rendering techniques. look at ray tracing as the ultimate solution, a solution where "real" life like animations are possible because the virtual eye in the game is treated exactly as a real eye and everything else is treated as it would in the real world, we will never get any closer than that to a real exprience than that! let me ask you this, why do you think allot of the animated movies are renered using ray tracing?


September 23, 2009, 2:57 pm

I think you're missing the point Tarik. Ray Tracing is undeniably a better way of doing light calculations but there are many other factors involved in making games look good. Also, we've seen half baked ray tracing demos before so for Intel to have such an unimpressive demo is understandably disapointing. As Riyad points out, if this hardware can't even do a half decent job then what hope is there for products in the near future. Larabee is supposed to be some sort of competitor to the main graphics card manufacturers but on the basis of this it's still nothing to get excited about.


September 23, 2009, 3:46 pm

Anyone saying we're reaching the limits of what rasterization can do is living in cloud cuckoo land. nVidia, ATI, Microsoft (the guys behind DirectX - you may have heard of it) and countless games developers have all said that we're years away from ray tracing becoming even close to mainstream and even then we'll be looking at hybrid solutions first. It's undeniably a better rendering technique where realism is key, but it's far too computationally intense for current hardware if you want the improvement to be noticeable.


September 24, 2009, 5:07 am

I think a little bit of perspective is in order. The current best real-time ray tracing is done on clusters of cell blade servers and the geometric complexity of those videos is nothing to compared to this larrabee demo. Having moving objects, glass and water and having it run in a single system is extremely impressive. Plus the intel guy said that ray tracing was just one of the rendering options of the programmable software. Though I agree that they were misguided in using this as an example of the potential power of this system. If it can do directX games, which it better, then they should have been showing off Crysis maxed out and CPU limited.. I suppose that's a little more complicated to setup (if it can do it).


September 24, 2009, 6:52 am

@jopey - you've hit the nail right on the head. The question that we all asked Intel out here in San Francisco is why we weren't shown Larrabee executing DirectX code. Regardless of how impressive real time ray tracing can be (although it really wasn't in this case), game developers are not going to move to ray tracing when the current install base isn't designed for it.


September 27, 2009, 4:15 am

The answer to the question "why did intel not show it executing direct x code" is that it would have been abysmally poor compared to the recent release of the radeon 5 series, and probably worse than the 4 series and 3 series to boot. (and the comparable nvidia series). This would not have looked good, so intel just didnt bother showing it.

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