Intel Expects Dev Tools To Bring Success In Graphics Market - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Intel Expects Dev Tools To Bring Success In Graphics Market

Intel is looking to attract game developers to its Larrabee processor with a more easily programmable platform than rivals Nvidia and AMD's ATI.

Intel, which plans to enter the high-end graphics market next year with the release of the Larrabee processor, said Monday that its software development tools will take the platform above products from competitors Nvidia and Advanced Micro Device's ATI unit.

Expected to ship to computer makers in late 2009 or early 2010, Larrabee will mark Intel's entry into the emerging market for so-called general-purpose graphics processing units, which can handle graphics and non-graphics workloads. In addition, Larrabee, which is the codename for the Intel GPU, will launch Intel into the market for discrete graphics cards, which fit into separate slots on a motherboard and perform the graphics-intensive tasks demanded by videogames and professional video and photo editing.

As the upstart, Intel is looking to attract game developers and other software makers with a more easily programmable platform than its rivals, Patrick P. Gelsinger, senior VP and general manager of Intel's digital enterprise group, said during a news conference in San Francisco.

"Will we succeed? I don't know," Gelsinger said. "But the response from ISVs (independent software vendors) has been the best in my history of developing chips for Intel." The executive acknowledged that no tools have been released yet, but said ISVs have seen the technical details.

In entering the market, Intel will be playing catch up to Nvidia and AMD's ATI, which are simplifying development on their platforms with better tools, and are developing their own GP GPUs. In addition, both organizations have been shipping discrete graphics cards for years.

Nevertheless, Intel believes it can transfer its success in making software development tools for CPUs to the graphics business. Without offering much in the way of details, Gelsinger brushed aside skepticism over Intel's ability to close the gap so quickly with its experienced rivals. "We'll see in the marketplace," he said.

In the meantime, AMD next year plans to ship the first of its Fusion chips, which merge graphic and CPU cores. The company plans to eventually sell models for desktops and notebooks. Nvidia, on the other hand, is already offering its GPUs for use in heavy computational tasks found in high-performance computing. In addition, the graphics chipmaker last year released tools to help developers build programs that can offload work from a CPU to a separate GPU.

Intel's graphics plans before Larrabee revolve around integrated graphics cores within chipsets. Such technology will be a part of Nehalem, codename for the successor to Intel's current Core micro-architecture. The first Nehalem processors, which will be high-end quad-core chips, are scheduled to ship to computer manufacturers in the second half of this year.

The first Nehalem chips, however, won't have integrated graphics. Those will come later, and will not be based on Larrabee, Gelsinger said. Nevertheless, the upcoming graphics technology is a "major upgrade in our integrated graphics capabilities."

Along with Nehalem and Larrabee, Gelsinger also discussed Dunnington, codename for Intel's first six-core processor. Set to ship to computer manufacturers in the second half of this year, Dunnington will be based on Intel's 45-nanometer manufacturing process. The chip will have 1.9 billion transistors, 16 Mbytes of L3 cache, and Intel's latest virtualization technology. Dunnington will operate with the same chipset used today with Intel's 7300 series Xeon chips.

Gelsinger also said that Intel was on track to deliver its next generation 32-nm processors, codenamed Westmere late next year, then its derivative Sandy Bridge in 2010.

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