updated 04:35 pm EDT, Tue April 17, 2007
Intel Larrabee CPU
Intel continued its news from its Developer Forum in Beijing by revealing a very different processor architecture than it has produced in the past. Codenaeed Larrabee, the x86-based chip design would center almost exclusively around parallelism, tailoring it to code where any simultaneous instructions can be handled at once. Few other details were released, according to Intel, but the CPU would continue to use IA (x86) architecture -- effectively letting it run today's programming for Linux, Mac, and Windows PCs without changes. Special "enhancements" to boost calculation speed for scientific formulas and visualizations, Intel said.
The company declined to provide a release window or more detailed specifications, and said only that it had "begun planning products" based on Larrabee that would arrive in future. Later versions could produce trillions of floating point math calculations (teraflops) per second that previously required supercomputer clusters, according to the company.
While the architecture may ultimately point to a direct replacement for today's Core 2- and Xeon-based processors, the joint focuses on parallel code and optimization point to Intel exploring the possibility of general-purpose graphics units (GPGPUs), say reports. As with the technology developed for newer graphics cards, such as NVIDIA's CUDA and AMD's Stream Computing, Larrabee could theoretically split its resources between graphics and general tasks. This could reduce or even eliminate the need for a companion processor to offload video work just as the opposite is becoming true for newer video chipsets, allowing the company to fit truly fast 3D and video decoding into smaller computer designs than available today.
Intel for its part has refused to comment on potential uses of the chip and has said that the announcement of Larrabee is solely a demonstration of where software developers will need to devote their attention in the future.
The semiconductor firm has also provided early glimpses of some of its more recognizable designs at the Developer Forum. These include Eaglelake, a mainstream desktop chipset for dual- and quad-core CPUs with support for 1333MHz DDR3 memory, PCI Express 2.0, and the upcoming DisplayPort output standard; Skulltrail, a gaming-oriented chipset due late 2007 with two processor sockets and four full-speed PCI Express slots; and the CE 2110 Media Processor, a 1GHz system-on-a-chip designed for media decoding in DVRs and other TV-attached boxes.