Drilling Deeper and Making the AMD/NVIDIA Comparison

Don't be fooled by the initial diagram, this simple x86 core gets far more complex. In the image below, the block to the left is the Larrabee core we mentioned earlier, to the right we've blown up the vector unit and its associated parts:

The vector unit is key and within that unit you've got a ton of registers and a very wide vector ALU, which leads us to the fundamental building block of Larrabee. NVIDIA's GT200 is built out of Streaming Processors, AMD's RV770 out of Stream Processing Units and Larrabee's performance comes from these 16-wide vector ALUs:

The vector ALU can behave as a 16-wide single precision ALU or an 8-wide double precision, although that doesn't necessarily translate into equivalent throughput (which Intel would not at this point clarify). Compared to ATI and NVIDIA, here's how Larrabee looks at a basic execution unit level:

NVIDIA's SPs work on a single operation, AMD's can work on five, and Larrabee's vector unit can work on sixteen. NVIDIA has a couple hundred of these SPs in its high end GPUs, AMD has 160 and Intel is expected to have anywhere from 16 - 32 of these cores in Larrabee. If NVIDIA is on the tons-of-simple-hardware end of the spectrum, Intel is on the exact opposite end of the scale.

We've already shown that AMD's architecture requires a lot of help from the compiler to properly schedule and maximize the utilization of its execution resources within one of its 5-wide SPs, with Larrabee the importance of the compiler is tremendous. Luckily for Larrabee, some of the best (if not the best) compilers are made by Intel. If anyone could get away with this sort of an architecture, it's Intel.

At the same time, while we don't have a full understanding of the details yet, we get the idea that Larrabee's vector unit is sort of a chameleon. From the information we have, these vector units could exectue atomic 16-wide ops for a single thread of a running program and can handle register swizzling across all 16 exectution units. This implies something very AMD like and wide. But it also looks like each of the 16 vector execution units, using the mask registers can branch independently (looking very much more like NVIDIA's solution).

We've already seen how AMD and NVIDIA architectural differences show distinct advantages and disadvantages against eachother in different games. If Intel is able to adapt the way the vector unit is used to suit specific situations, they could have something huge on their hands. Again, we don't have enough detail to tell what's going to happen, but things do look very interesting.

Not Quite a Pentium, Not Quite an Atom: The Larrabee Core Putting it all Together - Return of the Ring Bus
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  • NeonFlak - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    "Remember that Larrabee won't ship until sometime in 2009 or 2010, the first chips aren't even back from the fab yet, so not wanting to discuss how many cores Intel will be able to fit on a single Larrabee GPU makes sense. " Reply

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