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Intel Scraps First Larrabee Chip December 8, 2009

Posted by Peter Varhol in Architectures, Software platforms, Strategy.
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In a follow-up on my earlier post, Intel has set back its efforts to produce a many-core graphics and high performance floating point processor to compete with Nvidia and AMD, according to the Wall Street Journal (teaser here, full article requires subscription) and Computerworld.  The Larrabee (the code name comes from a state park in Washington) processor family is to be a many-core processor with multiple pipelines for a high level of parallel operations.  Intel says it will use Larrabee technology in general-purpose CPUs in the future.

Further, Larrabee purportedly offers GPU-type performance in graphics and floating point processing using the x86 instruction set, meaning that applications can get the power of a GPU without recompilation and code changes (code changes are still necessary to take advantage of parallelism).

Part of the issue may be that Intel no longer has access to Nvidia intellectual property due to lawsuits.  It may also be that Intel still needs to develop the technology to build many-core processors, although it has also announced a prototype 48-core processor.

But it may also be the case that the x86 instruction set doesn’t well lend itself to floating point operations, even with a long multi-stage pipeline.  I’m certainly not a processor designer, but based on benchmarking I’ve done in years past, the x86 was never a speed burner in this type of computation.  It may be that graphics and high performance computation is one market that the x86 was never meant to conquer.

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