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Intel Larrabee GPU Project Cancelled E-mail
Written by Don Clark - Wall Street Journal   
Monday, 07 December 2009

Intel Larrabee GPU Project Cancelled

Intel Corp.'s plans to move into a new semiconductor market suffered a setback, as the company disclosed it is cancelling the first chip based on a novel design dubbed Larrabee.

The high-profile product, which Intel has been publicly discussing since April 2007, was expected to generate complex graphics for videogames and carry out other high-performance computing chores. Intel already makes less-sophisticated graphics circuitry that is integrated into sets of chips.

Larrabee has been a hot topic in the computer industry, in part because the technology threatened to open a new front in Intel's competition with Nvidia Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The two companies lead the market for high-performance graphics chips, often sold in cards that plug into personal computers.

The technology also was seen as an important test of Intel's vision for "many-core" chips, which use dozens of calculating engines rather than the one to four electronic brains found on most microprocessors today. Where Nvidia and AMD use hundreds of specialized processor cores that are suited to specific chores such as graphics, the initial Larrabee model was expected to have up to 32 processors based on the general-purpose x86 design used in most PCs.

While Intel said its approach would be easier to program, the company faced widespread skepticism about how fast it could match the rapidly accelerating performance of AMD and Nvidia products. Skepticism about Intel's progress in perfecting the design increased in September, when the company gave an initial public demonstration of the chip's graphics performance that analysts said was unimpressive.

The company had initially promised to deliver the first version of Larrabee in 2009, later stating that it might not arrive until 2010. Intel Friday said it had decided not to offer the chip at all as a conventional product, though Intel will make it available as a platform to help programmers design new applications that can carry out computing tasks in a parallel fashion.

"The silicon and software development are behind where we hoped to be at this point in the project," said Nick Knupffer, an Intel spokesman.

The company does not plan to say more about future versions of Larrabee until next year. "We remain committed to delivering world-class many-core graphics products to our customers," he said.

Intel, which expects to begin selling products with six to eight processors in 2010, did provide evidence Wednesday about its ability to design more complex chips. Company researchers demonstrated an experimental chip with 48 processors, which Intel expects to distribute in small quantities next year to help programmers learn to exploit the many-core technology.

Jon Peddie, an industry analyst with the firm Jon Peddie Associates, said Intel had also demonstrated Larrabee's ability to handle scientific computing chores at an industry conference in November. An initial version of the chip was able to handle a trillion operations per second, he said; AMD and Nvidia have stated higher theoretical performance, but have not yet backed up those projections with test results, Mr. Peddie added.

But Larrabee's performance in graphics was not proven, and Intel was determined not to repeat a misstep in the late 1990s of delivering a product that disappointed users, Mr. Peddie said. The decision gives AMD and Nvidia more "breathing room," he said.

Hector Marinez, an Nvidia spokesman said "the fact that a company with Intel's technical prowess and financial resources has struggled so hard to succeed with parallel computing shows just how exceptionally difficult a challenge this is."


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