Intel cancels Larrabee graphics project

Chip giant Intel pulls plug on much vaunted graphics project as performance falls behind expectations.

chip

Intel has announced that its Larrabee graphics project will be shelved, at least in its original form, due to performance lagging behind the competition.

In a statement made to CNET.com Intel spokesman Nick Knuffer said, "Larrabee silicon and software development are behind where we hoped to be at this point in the project. As a result, our first Larrabee product will not be launched as a standalone discrete graphics product."

Larrabee will appear instead as a software development platform, which implies that work will continue on the project in some form.

The move is certain to be a blow for Intel, which planned to return to the discrete graphic chip market to compete with AMD's ATI brand and Nvidia. Intel last had a presence in the market in 1998 with the i740, but pulled out due to uncompetitive performance. It has since dominated the less performance sensitive integrated graphics market.

IT PRO saw Larrabee running at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco in September, where senior research scientist Bill Marks said he was "super excited with the progress" on the part. However, as our reporter noted performance wasn't stellar with the demo described as being "choppy".

On a technical level, the Larrabee chip took a different approach from the established discrete graphics chip players such as ATI and Nvidia. The chief advantage touted by Intel was that it was it was based on the same x86 CPU instruction set as Intel's computer microprocessors, giving it greater programming flexibility for developers, and enabling it to act as a GPGPU.

However, ATI and Nvidia parts can already perform GPGPU functions and these have been enhanced with the release of Microsoft's Direct X 11 standard, built into Windows 7 and available as an update for Windows Vista. In addition, raw throughput was said to be five times less than that currently available from the competition.

That said, it isn't necessarily over for Larrabee, according to Richard Swinburne, technical editor on IT PRO's sister title Bit-Tech. He believes that the technology could still be a viable solution for the workstation and server market.

"Intel will concentrate on producing a Larrabee part as a complement for its HPC market to increase compute density within servers", he said.

"This is where Intel already commands a very strong hand with its Xeon CPUs, and attempting to tackle the mammoth task of software computability for games and general consumer applications was simply biting off more than it could chew."

He added: "Unfortunately, it didn't realise this sooner, and the further delay to market, as well as billions of dollars already invested, will no doubt give a further benefit of sustained marketshare to both Nvidia and AMD."

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