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Intel shows glimpse of 32-core Larrabee beast

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Intel has opened up a corner of its kimono and shown a picture of the upcoming Larrabee chip, indicating it will be a 32-core graphics processing engine.

As reported here and elsewhere, Larrabee is Intel's response to Nvidia and AMD graphics processing chips. Larrabee will be, in its first iteration, a 32-core processor. Each core is expected to be an x86 core, and each will will be paired with a vector processing unit. Larrabee will have a shared pool of cache memory and there will be memory interfaces around the edge of the chip.

This is according to people who have inspected the die photo in the Intel slide deck.

At the opening of a Visual Computing Institute at Germany's Saarland University, Joseph Schultz, a VP in Intel's Corporate Technology Group and director of its Microprocessor Technology Lab, said that Larrabee would be launched in the first half of next year, later than the expected late-2009 date.

Intel has made a point of Larrabee's programmability, saying it will be more flexible in use than current dedicated graphics chips.

The idea seems to be that a Larrabee workstation could use the chip for general business applications, mining the humungous x86 application base, as well as power through graphics image rendering tasks. It could also be used for new graphics processing applications because of this flexibility.

New compilers are going to be needed to use Larrabee to its best effect. It is reported that Intel will introduce a packaged set of graphics development software tools called Parallel Studio on May 26th. This is aimed at making the parallelisation of graphics applications easier and is said to help developers using Windows and the Visual Studio product.

Intel said the revealed Larrabee image is just one of what will be multiple versions of Larrabee over time. The firm has published a white paper describing Larrabee here (pdf). This has performance graphs showing up to 64 cores, immediately suggesting Intel could ship versions of Larrabee with differing core counts: 8, 16, 32, 48, and on to 64.

Larrabee is being designed for manufacture using Intel's current 45nm High-K metal gate process, and so we might expect a 32nm version of Larrabee to be on the roadmap, with a consequent possible increase in the core count beyond 64.

If only Intel hadn't already said Larrabee would be using a Pentium CPU core, then we could wonder if Intel is using its Atom processor design as the Larrabee core to meet the chip real estate limitations. That would make Larrabee a molecule made up from Intel atoms. ®

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