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Intel confirms programmable, multi-core chip

Larrabee vs GPGPUs: it's war

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IDF Intel claims to have ended the GPGPU era before it even started with the revelation of a new multi-core processor design called Larrabee. At the Intel Developer Forum today, Intel server chip chief Pat Gelsinger confirmed the long rumored processor.

He described Larrabee as a multi-core, programmable part that will use a tweaked version of the x86 instruction set. Intel expects software developers to craft specialized applications for the processor, giving them a boost on some of the most demanding workloads.

"It will be many cores," Gelsinger said. "You can expect that different versions of the processor will have different numbers of cores."

Gelsinger hesitated to elaborate more on the product other than to add that it will reach at least one teraflop.

The part appears to be an offshoot of Intel's terascale processor labs project. The company today demonstrated a non-x86, 80-core chip reaching 2 teraflops, while consuming 191 watts of power. The same chip hit one teraflop at 46 watts and 1.5 teraflops at 93 watts.

Larrabee looks set to compete against so-called GPGPUs or general purpose graphics processors. AMD has been touting the GPGPU concept as a way for a broader set of software developers to take advantage of the strong performance demonstrated by graphics chips from Nvidia and ATI (now part of AMD).

Gelsinger, however, argued that few coders know how to craft multi-threaded, parallel code that can take advantage of the GPUs. Using the x86 architecture with Larrabee helps ease the software burden, since so many developers are familiar with the technology.

"We don't think there is any such thing as a general purpose GPU," Gelsinger said with bravado.

Intel expects to demonstrate a Larrabee chip, likely with tens of cores, next year.

The company has been busy recruiting top engineers from Nvidia and elsewhere over the past few months to fuel the Larrabee effort. A number of university researchers have also been pushing software for this type of technology.

It's expected that customers in the high performance computing field will realize the most benefit from these programmable chips. They'll be able to craft very specific applications to make use of the multi-core design and should see performance gains well beyond what a standard general purpose chip such as Xeon could offer.

Intel is also working to advance similar types of accelerators that will connect to systems via PCI Express. In addition, it's hyping FPGA co-processors that slot into Xeon sockets. ®

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