Competition will be heating up between Intel and its rival chipmakers, Advanced Micro Devices and Nvidia. Intel has introduced a high-end graphics processor based on its Larrabee architecture that will go head-to-head with Nvidia GeForce and AMD Radeon video cards.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker demonstrated early silicon based on the Larrabee architecture during Intel's Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, showing the world that it will now integrate graphics into future chip products.
Larrabee is the code name for a family of graphics-focused coprocessors. The processor will allow programmers to easily add a variety of 3-D graphics such as rasterization, a technique that converts an image to pixels; volumetric rendering, a process to visualize 3-D data sets; and ray tracing, a technique for generating an image by tracing a path of light through pixels on an image plane.
The first Larrabee product is due out next year, according to Intel.
To demonstrate the processor's power, Sean Maloney, Intel's executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, demonstrated a real-time ray-traced version of the game Quake Wars: Enemy Territory running on Larrabee and Intel's gaming processor, code-named Gulftown.
Larrabee will first appear in discrete graphics cards used in high-end gaming PCs, but will then be integrated into the processor along with other technologies, according to the company.
"What is different about Larrabee compared to other traditional graphics from a developer's perspective is that it allows full rendering," said Nick Knupffer, an Intel spokesperson.
Traditionally, programmers need to program within a specific set of rules and designers are restricted in what graphics are shown on the screen. Larrabee, however, allows artists to design and show what they want on the screen, according to Knupffer.
"It follows an existing pipeline defined by Microsoft (DirectX) and it has its advantages, but if you want to program outside of those rules you are restricted," Knupffer said. "With Larrabee, you can do anything you want."
Reports say Larrabee will be used beyond the PC market in system-on-a-chip products for handheld devices. Knupffer, however, said Intel has not made that statement, but added that "it will be one day integrated into a processor product."
Smaller Chips, Faster Response
Also demonstrated at the forum was a PC based on Westmere, Intel's first 32nm processor. The processor is the first Intel processor to integrate a graphics die into the processor's package, according to Maloney. The processor also supports Intel's Turbo Boost and hyper-threading technologies and adds Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) directions for both encryption and decryption.
Another 32nm processor code-named Sandy Bridge will include Intel's graphics on the same die as the processor core and will include faster video and processor-intensive software found in media applications.