IDF Spring 2008 – Day One – Larrabee Details Revealed

AMD and nVidia must be quaking in their boots.

Normally, we like to give you a bit of a word for word account of the opening key note from IDF. However, this year there was one announcement that meant we simply couldn’t resist jumping our own gun. Right at the end of his hour long slot Pat Gelsinger revealed, what we’d long suspected, that the much anticipated Larrabee project will indeed see Intel entering the discrete graphics market.

Details on the actual architecture were not exactly plentiful but there was still enough to sink our teeth into. Surprisingly, considering some of the speculation that was being banded about Larrabee, the platform of the not so distant future will be quite similar to that we see today with a CPU, chipset, and discrete graphics card. It’s just the graphics will now be courtesy of Intel and not AMD or nVidia.

With the immergence of real-time ray-tracing and lifelike physics, Gelsinger pointed out that existing graphics architectures are simply not scalable enough, as the pipeline is too inefficient, to be used for the multitude of tasks it will need to do in the future. Thus the idea behind Larrabee was to create a completely new programmable, ubiquitous, and unified architecture upon which future developments in graphics would be based.

To facilitate this, Intel has had to introduce over 100 new instructions to its x86 set so it’s clear there will be a steep learning curve for programmers and designers. However, Intel was at pains to point out the versatility of the new architecture would bring with it near limitless potential for designers, thus compensating for the initial complication.

The result is a processor that has teraflops of performance on a single die and unprecedented amounts of bandwidth to both on-die cache and system memory (presumably when used in conjunction with a Nehalem platform).

A quick demonstration was wheeled out that showed Far Cry 2 running on such a system and it has to be said, the game did look amazing. However, knowing how good the likes of Crysis can look on existing hardware, it wasn’t an overly convincing demonstration of what benefits Larrabee will bring. For that we will have to wait until review hardware becomes available, which isn’t likely to be until well into next year. Here’s hoping it’s sooner, though.