Intel Corp. has demonstrated its highly-anticipated code-named Larrabee graphics processing unit at Intel Developer Forum 2009. The device was rendering well-known Enemy Territory: Quake Wars ray-tracing demo in real-time. The demo was not interactive, so, it was impossible to say anything about performance of Larrabee. Moreover, the company remained tight-lipped on Larrabee time-to-market schedule, but promised to integrate this GPU into its processors in the future.
“What we are showing you here is an application that demonstrates some of the flexibility of Larrabee. It is running on the Larrabee Software Development Vehicle, so this is the early silicon. And it's also got some other Intel goodness in it. It's got an Intel Gulftown CPU,” said Bill Mark, senior research scientist at Intel labs advanced graphics research.
This is the first time when Intel shows off working Larrabee graphics processors. The company claims that the main advantage of Larrabee is its ability to program the whole rendering pipeline, something, which is not possible even on latest DirectX 11 graphics processing units. Perhaps, this is why Intel has chosen to show off a rather outdated ray-tracing demo during the first public showcase of Larrabee, but not a modern video-game that takes advantage of DirectX 10.1/11.
“What makes Larrabee unique is you get a fully programmable rendering pipeline. So this lets you, in addition to standard DirectX, OpenGL, you can also implement customized rasterization pipelines and, maybe even more interestingly, things like voxel rendering and ray tracing,” said Mr. Mark.
Intel has been stressing for about two years now that Larrabee can be programmed the same way as a central processing unit, which indisputably adds flexibility, but is likely to be used only by a handful of programmers, simply due to the fact that modern video game consoles – for which the vast majority of games is developed and from where they are ported to personal computers – cannot offer the same functionality as Larrabee.
“For programmers, what is interesting about Larrabee is not just the flexibility but also the ease of development. So, let me just give you a specific example of that here. You see there are some moving objects in this scene – there are some helicopters – which is traditionally difficult in a ray tracer. But what we have done here is we rebuild some of the key data structures, every frame, on Larrabee using a form of parallelism called task parallelism. So, what this is really showing is that you can do the same kind of things you do on a multi-core CPU but with even more parallelism,” explained the senior research scientist.
The world’s largest chipmaker earlier said that the first Larrabee GPU will be released in the first half of 2010 and then early in 2010. This time the company did not outline any more release timeframes, but confirmed plans to integrate Larrabee graphics core into central processing units going forward. According to unofficial information, the first CPUs to feature Larrabee graphics cores will be Haswell processors due in 2012.
“We are super excited with the progress of Larrabee, both inside the labs, where we've been busy working away on silicon for some time, and outside, where you guys know we have a whole bunch of SDKs out there. […]. And we will be incorporating this into a future CPU at some point,” said Sean Maloney, executive vice president and general manager of Intel architecture group.