Intel's decision to shelve its graphics chip code-named Larrabee is more an indication of the difficulty of building a new architecture than a sign that Intel's giving up on developing a general-purpose GPU, according to analysts. Demand for GPGPUs is growing in the HPC space, and analysts expect Intel to want to tap into that rather than cede the battle to AMD and Nvidia. This is also one more area in which the chip maker can expand the reach of its Intel Architecture.
Intel may have scrapped
its "Larrabee" discrete graphics processor, but no one should
mistake the move for a sign that the chip maker is moving away from the
business of general-purpose GPUs, according to industry analysts.
Company officials are looking for ways to expand the Intel Architecture into
new segments, and the demand for GPGPU computing is only going to grow. Intel's
decision Dec. 4 to shelve the Larrabee project due to what a spokesperson called
development issues was an indication of the kind of challenge the company is
putting in front of itself as it works to create a product to compete with
offerings from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.
However, while the development of the first-generation Larrabee chip may not
have been what Intel officials wanted, they can apply what they've learned to
their next GPU effort, as well their work in developing many-core CPUs, analysts
"Building a highly parallel, high-performance product is really
hard," Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight 64, said in an interview.
"It's taken ATI [which AMD
bought in 2006 for $5.4 billion] and Nvidia many generations ... to get this kind
of high performance out of a manageable chip."
John Spooner, an analyst with Technology Business Research, agreed.
Intel's decision says more about "the difficulty of bringing a new
graphics architecture to market," Spooner said. "It's not a build-it-and-they-will-come
situation for Intel. Intel needs to work with developers and get them on board
if it [is going to have] any chance of selling a large number of Larrabee
chips. The Nvidia/ATI model of high-end
discrete graphics processors [plus] programming for them is working well
enough. Developers understand it [and] are comfortable with it, and having a
third horse in that race is a bigger undertaking than maybe Intel
Intel officials have been talking about Larrabee since 2007, and after some
delays, appeared set to release it in the first quarter of 2010. The company
demonstrated Larrabee at its Intel Developer Forum in September, and at the
Supercomputing show in November officials showed off an over-clocked Larrabee
chip topping the 1-teraflop (trillion floating-point operations per second)
However, instead Larrabee will be released as a development platform for
computer graphics and the HPC
(high-performance computing) space.