Intel's Larrabee Architecture Disclosure: A Calculated First Moveby Anand Lal Shimpi & Derek Wilson on August 4, 2008 12:00 AM EST
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Shading Tiles with Larrabee (With Extra Goodies)
We've looked at the way we get from triangles to tiles a bit. Intel shared a bit of a deeper look at how they are organizing their software render on the back end (from the tiles to the screen).
First, full tiles are fetched into cache. Reaching back to understanding how threads are organized, we can have four simulatneous threads running, and keeping all four of these threads working on parts of the same data set will help keep from thrashing the cache. Intel has indicated that the organization of software rendering threads durring back end processing will be as illustrated in the following diagram.
We see that there are 4 thread with one acting as a fragment setup thread which takes all the geometry in the tile and creating fragments from it for further processing. There are then three work threads that take ready fragments (or more like groups of 4 to 16 fragments each -- just a guess for now), check to see if they are visible, shade the fragment (load textures and run associated shader programs), perform any antialiasing and handle blend operations. Remember that this is all just software. It doesn't have to happen this way, but this is the direction Intel had indicated they have taken for their software renderer and for implementing DirectX and OpenGL.
By the time Larrabee arrives as a product, I certainly hope that we'll get a deeper look at what's really going on under the hood and how everything is organized. I suppose the holy grail would be if Intel decides to release it's software renderer source code to the general public, but even if we don't get that we'll try to get information on all the different types of threads, fibers and strands that are spawned to handle all the different steps in the rendering pipeline.
Beyond just taking traditionally fixed function features and running them in software, Intel can do a few cool things that are difficult with current hardware. In order to get layered transparency to work right, game developers need to sort objects and polygons as best then can from back to front (rendendering the furthest object to the screen first). If this isn't done, we can get some funky artifacts that don't look right. Since all this is software, Intel can do a few cool things to help developers out: where there is transparency, they can maintain an list of fragments at that screen position with z info attached rather than just blending or discarding data immediately. This way, when the blend is performed, it can be done properly no matter what order the geometry was rendered in.
Additionally, Irregular Z-buffers (which can allow for the creation of screen resolution shadow maps to avoid artifacts) and other complex data structures that can't easily or efficiently be implemented on traditional GPU hardware can be implemented on Larrabee without a second thought. Some of this stuff Intel can do on the back end to improve quality and performance in all applications, but some of it really won't make a difference until developers start to embrace the new architecture. And it's not just doing new things -- there are probably plenty of devs out there who would love to entirely skip the step of sorting their polygons when dealing with layered transparency.