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Intel abandons discrete graphics for HPC

'Larrabee is dead, long live Larrabee'

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Intel is leaving the discrete graphics market to Nvidia and AMD/ATI for now, but its orphaned GPU/CPU mashup, Larrabee, will soon see new life in the HPC space.

In a Tuesday posting on the Technology@Intel blog, director of global communications Bill Kircos communicated with the globe to say that Larrabee the graphics processor is dead but that Larrabee the HPC enabler is very much alive.

"We will not bring a discrete graphics product to market, at least in the short-term," Kircos blogged. "As we said in December, we missed some key product milestones."

Indeed. That December event to which Kircos is referring was when the much-anticipated multicore processor was demoted from about-to-be-a-graphics-chip to a "software development platform". At that time, however, a company spokesman told us that Intel was "committed to delivering world-class many-core graphics products".

Reg readers with long memories will recall that Intel CEO Paul Otellini said in 2007 that Larrabee would "move us into discrete graphics". Didn't happen. Today's "We will not bring a discrete graphics product to market" is rather unambiguous, and the disclaimer of "at least in the short-term" is merely a bit of never-say-never CYA-speak.

In the same blog post, however, Kircos declared that the Larrabee project (no, not The Laramie Project) was about to bear fruit, and that said fruit would be revealed next week at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

"We are ... executing on a business opportunity derived from the Larrabee program and Intel research in many-core chips," Kircos wrote. "This server product line expansion is optimized for a broader range of highly parallel workloads in segments such as high performance computing."

As The Reg has pointed out before, the Larrabee project has definite HPC implications. We — along with the Nvidians working on that company's HPC-loving Fermi architecture — will be keeping our eye on Intel vice president Kirk Skaugen when he presents the Larrabee-based "server product line expansion" next week at ISC '10.

We'll also be keeping our eyes peeled for any resemblance between Skaugen's announcement and the 48-core Intel-architecture "Single-chip Cloud Computer" (SCC) that the company demoed last December. That chip was clearly labeled a research project when we met it at its San Francisco debutant ball, but successful research leads to products.

What we won't be on the lookout for, however, will be any discrete graphics chip from Intel — "at least in the short-term". ®

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