Intel Releases Details Of Upcoming Graphics Chip - InformationWeek

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Intel Releases Details Of Upcoming Graphics Chip

The first Larrabee chips will be add-on graphics accelerators in PCs used mostly by gamers.

Intel on Monday released technical details of a new line of graphics processors that would take on market leaders Nvidia and the ATI division of Advanced Micro Devices.

Intel plans to present details of the chip design, code-named Larrabee, Aug. 12 at the SIGGRAPH industry conference in Los Angeles. In the meantime, Intel has made the paper available online through the Association of Computing Machinery's portal.

The first Larrabee chips will be add-on graphics accelerators in PCs used mostly by gamers. Called graphics processing units, or GPUs, the chips are expected at the end of 2009 or early 2010. In time, Intel plans to adapt Larrabee to more workloads, such as video processing, medical imaging, scientific research, oil and gas exploration, and other high-performance computing tasks.

The first Larrabee chips will have more than a dozen cores on a single silicon chip. Intel, however, says it eventually will build hundreds of processing units on a chip. In that area, however, Intel is way behind Nvidia and AMD in the multibillion-dollar graphics market. Nvidia is shipping GPUs with more than 200 cores today, and AMD is planning a high-end graphics chip this year with more than 500 cores.

Nevertheless, Intel believes it has advantages over its rivals. Its GPUs will be based on the x86 instruction set commonly used in personal computers today. As a result, the chips will be able take advantage of the huge amount of software already in the market.

Intel also is likely to try to differentiate Larrabee by wrapping it in the chipmaker's focus on supporting a rendering technique known as ray tracing. Intel believes ray tracing eventually will replace raster graphics, the rectangular grid of color pixels that comprise computer graphics today.

Ray tracing offers far more realism through an approach based on simulating the path that light rays take as they bounce around within the world. The technique, however, requires far more processing power, and the Larrabee design eventually could provide the needed muscle.

Intel has posted a Larrabee fact sheet on its Web site.

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