Larrabee more efficient than GPUs at rasterisation

Written by Ben Hardwidge

March 30, 2009 // 2:42 p.m.

Tags: #abrash #efficient #flexible #game #gpu #intel #larrabee #michael #mike #performance #rad #rasterisation #rasterization #teraflops #tflops #tools

It’s the product that’s either going to transform the graphics chip industry beyond recognition or simply become another footnote in PC gaming history.

Larrabee, Intel’s first foray into the world of discrete graphics since the abysmal i740, has been a hot talking point in the PC gaming business, not just because it’s another competitor in the GPU business, but because it also relies on software rendering via x86 CPUs. However, while Intel has given us very few details about the architecture, little is known about how the chip will actually perform, which is what makes games programmer Mike Abrash’s recent session on Larrabee at GDC particularly interesting.

VentureBeat attended the lecture, in which Abrash revealed some of his experiences of the performance of Larrabee in comparison to traditional GPUs. According to VentureBeat, Abrash claimed that, despite using software rendering, Larrabee can in fact be more efficient than traditional GPUs when it comes to performing rasterisation tasks.

The site also says that Abrash claimed that Larrabee’s performance will be above 1TFLOPS, although this computing milestone has already been passed by current traditional GPUs such as the Radeon HD 4870. Interestingly, Abrash also noted that the “raw graphics performance” of Larrabee isn’t likely to be as fast as other graphics chips, but praised Intel’s chip for its power-efficiency and flexibility.

The latter appears to be particularly appealing to programmers such as Abrash, who worked on the original Doom, Quake and Half-Life games, before moving to RAD Game Tools. According to VentureBeat, Abrash described Larrabee as the “most fascinating graphics architecture” that he’d seen in 15 years, with the chip’s cores making it more flexible than a standard GPU pipeline.

By using multiple x86 processors, many people have noted that Larrabee could also be used for ray tracing as well as rasterisation, although it would need a tremendous amount of computing power to do this effectively in real time.

However, VentureBeat also quotes a memo apparently sent by Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang to Nvidia employees, which says that Intel could potentially breach the cross-license between the two companies by releasing Larrabaee.

“In our countersuit,” says the memo, “we assert our belief that we are licensed to build chipsets for Intel processors. In a pair of agreements signed in 2004, we negotiated for rights to build chipsets. In exchange, Intel obtained a cross license to our valuable patents. Today, Intel is using technologies that we invented in their integrated graphics chips. And they will soon integrate Nvidia patented technologies into their CPUs and upcoming Larrabee processors.”

Could flexibility become more important than raw graphics performance in the future of graphics chips? Let us know your thoughts about Intel’s Larrabee graphics chip in the forums.
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