Things That Could Go Wrong

I had to write this section because as strong as Intel has been executing these past couple of years, we must keep in mind that in the GPU market, Intel isn't only the underdog, it's going up against the undefeated. NVIDIA, the company that walked into 3dfx's house and walked away with its IP, the company who could be out engineered and outperformed by ATI for an entire year and still emerge as dominant. This is Intel's competition, the most Intel-like of all of the manufacturers in the business, and a highly efficient one at that.

Intel may benefit from the use of its advanced manufacturing fabs in making Larrabee, but it is also burdened by them. NVIDIA has been building GPUs, some quite large, without ever investing a dime in building its own manufacturing facility. There's much that could go wrong with Larrabee, the short list follows:

Manufacturing, Design and Yield

Before we get to any of the GPU-specific concerns about Larrabee, there's always the basics when making any chip. There's always the chance that it could be flawed, it might not reach the right clock speeds, deliver the right performance and perhaps not yield well enough. Larrabee has a good chance of being Intel's largest die produced in desktop-like volumes, while Intel is good at manufacturing we can't rule these out as concerns.


As interesting as Larrabee sounds, it's not going to arrive for another year at least. NVIDIA should have even higher performing parts out by then, making GT200 look feebile by comparison. If Intel can't deliver a real advantage over the best from NVIDIA and AMD, Larrabee won't get very far as little more than a neat architecture.

Drivers and Developer Relations

Intel's driver team now is hardly its strongpoint. On the integrated graphics side we continue to have tons of issues, even as we're testing the new G45 platform we're still bumping into many driver related issues and are hearing, even from within Intel, that the IGP driver team leaves much to be desired. Remember that NVIDIA as a company is made up of mostly software engineers - drivers are paramount to making a GPU successful, and Intel hasn't proved itself.

I asked Intel who was working on the Larrabee drivers, thankfully the current driver team is hard at work on the current IGP platforms and not on Larrabee. Intel has a number of its own software engineers working on Larrabee's drivers, as well as a large team that came over from 3DLabs. It's too early to say whether or not this is a good thing, nor do we have any idea of what Intel's capabilities are from a regression testing standpoint, but architecture or not, drivers can easily decide the winner in the GPU race.

Developer relations are also very important. Remember the NVIDIA/Assassin's Creed/DirectX 10.1 fiasco? NVIDIA's co-marketing campaign with nearly all of the top developers is an incredibly strong force. While Intel has the clout to be able to talk to game developers, we're bound to see the clash of two impossibly strong forces here.

The Future of Larrabee: The Many Core Era and Launch Questions Final Words


View All Comments

  • bigboxes - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    What are you talking about? It's been nothing but good news for AMD lately. Sure, let Intel sink a lot of $$ into graphics. Sounds like a win for AMD (in a roundabout way). It's like AMD investing into a graphics maker (ATI) instead of concentrating on what makes them great. Most of the Intel supporters were all over AMD for making that decision. Turn this around and watch Intel invest heavily into graphics and it's a grand slam. I guess it's all about perspective. :) Reply
  • Griswold - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    You seem to be confused. Time for a nap. Reply
  • MDme - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    but AMD will have Cinema 2.0. did you see that demo? by 2010, AMD will have the RV990 or whatever...and Nvidia will have GT400? Reply
  • phaxmohdem - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    Considering how long it took nVidia to release a single GPU significantly faster than G80, I'd be shocked if we wee GT300 by 2009/2010. however a GTX 295GT X2 ULTRA OC is not out of the question ;) Reply
  • shuffle2 - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    mm², how hard is that to write? >.> Reply
  • 1prophet - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    They need to hit one out of the park with the drivers (software)as well. Reply
  • jltate - Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - link

    I've got a bunch of comments, so I'll just list them all here.

    SSE doesn't have fused multiply-add operations. Larrabee does -- thus that 10 core processor could perform a peak of 320 floating point operations per cycle (it's mentioned in the SIGGRAPH paper).

    Larrabee's programming model is variable width -- the hardware can and likely will be augmented in the future to perform more than just 16 operations in parallel.

    The ring bus between cores was stated to be for each group of 16. Intel stated that for more than 16 cores they'd use "multiple short-linked rings".

    Also, the diagram only shows one memory controller on one side with fixed function logic on the other, not two memory controllers as you showed on page 5 of your article. However, Intel stated in the paper that the configuration and number of processors, fixed function blocks and I/O controllers would be implementation dependent. So in effect it could very well have a half-dozen 64-bit interfaces like G80.

    My forecast? This thing will rock. I for one simply cannot wait.
  • Laura Wilson - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    that's the truth

    they say they know this. it sounds like they know this ... we'll see what happens :-)
  • gigahertz20 - Monday, August 4, 2008 - link

    I'm going to predict Larrabee will provide a huge boost of performance over Intel's current crappy integrated graphic solutions, but will not be able to compete with AMD/ATI's and Nvidia's high end GPU's when it (Larrabee) finally launches. If Intel can deliver a monster that can push 100+ FPS in Crysis and doesn't cost so much that it breaks the bank like the current Nvidia GTX 280's, then they will have a real winner! When it finally launches though, who knows what AMD/ATI and Nvidia will have out to compete against it, wonder if Intel is just trying to push out a mainstream chip or go high end as well...guess I need to read the rest of the article :) Reply
  • JEDIYoda - Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - link

    dreaming again huh??? you people who want top notch performance without having to pay for it....rofl..hahaha Reply

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