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Intel's lab crew makes case for 80-core world

CSI: It's optical

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True enough, video game developers, companies such as Adobe with Photoshop and operating system makers can use multi-core chips for serious speedups. But why would the average consumer want to throw 80 cores at Word and Microsoft's excuse for a browser, Internet Explorer?

Intel's labs crew have developed a number of applications meant to demonstrate what a consumer could get out of an 80-core dynamo.

A well-cored computer could, for example, make those tedious home movies more tolerable both for the family producing the films and people subjected to screenings of "The Day Johnny Ate a Lollipop by Himself."

Intel and partners, for example, have created software that eliminates jitter from video recordings.

The wife's grand ski run has never looked better with her top form coming through clearly despite your shaky hands. Soon, a company such as YouTube could offer the jitter removal as an option, and the home PC could do the dirty work crunching code to improve the clip.

In the same arena, Intel has mastered an application that can scan a lengthy home video of, say, your son's soccer football game and pull out the highlights from when the youngling scored a goal or maimed that jerk kid from down the block. Intel's code searches the video for spikes in cheering or fierce on field activity to locate the best bits of a game. It can also zero in on individual players and track them throughout the contest.

"Grandma is not going to sit there for an hour watching the game, but she will sit there and watch a five-minute highlight reel," one Intel lab staffer told us, during our recent visit to the company's Santa Clara nerdery.

Intel also showed off some software that lets users manipulate objects on a screen with the aid of a PC camera. You can see one example of this software in action below – vulture bubbles always an excellent choice.

The Games People Play

While Intel hopes to gain the attention of customers outside of the gaming set, it can't help but show off what a terascale chip would do for a first person shooter.

Intel has spent the last couple of years pumping the idea that ray tracing – a rendering technique that provides more sophisticated interactions between light and objects - will conquer raster graphics.

Despite pursuing its own graphics chip agenda, Intel contends that mainstream, multi-core x86 chips will bring video games to life in ways that the GPU crowd cannot match. The physics calculations demanded by techniques such as ray tracing make a “general purpose” x86 chip ideal for producing the graphics-rich games of tomorrow.

“GPUs are not set up for the general purpose types of workloads that we're talking about,” noted one of Intel's researchers. “Physics is one of the most general workloads, and those types of calculations will fly on (the multi-core) chips.”

Besides being better suited to certain workloads, general purpose chips from Intel boast large on-chip memory stores. The limited local memory of GPUs hampers the products from “rendering complex scenes” in games, according to Intel.

Damn you developers, developers, developers

Even if Intel can convince consumers, game developers and the like of the terascale chips' merits, the company faces a huge coding conundrum.

Relatively few coders know how to take advantage of multi-core chips, and most of the folks who do know the way of multi-core are spending their time pushing out server code. So, it may be the case that Intel dumps a fantastic, super-powerful chip on the market and then has to wait years for Microsoft and crew to write software that flies on the silicon. To help fix this situation, Intel has put research and development dollars in the hands of tens of universities. It hopes to encourage the schools to set up multi-threaded coding courses.

Beyond software, there are more problems as well – this time for the hardware crew. (And with that, I give you a forbidden journalistic technique known as “burying the lede.”)

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Next page: CSI Drama

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