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Monday, August 04, 2008, 02:05 pm PT (05:05 pm ET)

Intel details Larrabee multi-core graphics processor

As a prelude to the SIGGRAPH expo, Intel has revealed some key details of its first dedicated 3D chipset and its potential for expanding what developers can do with 3D graphics.

Still going under its Larrabee codename, Intel's architecture is the first to be based on many cores using an x86 processor architecture based on the Pentium rather than the more proprietary designs of companies that specialize in graphics, such as AMD's ATI Radeon HD or NVIDIA's GeForce GTX series.

Using a more universal architecture would free developers of games and application programming interfaces (APIs) much more freedom, Intel says. Where current-day video chipsets force these software creators to work with largely pre-existing tools, the familiarity of an x86 design would purportedly give developers a "blank canvas" to add new effects or otherwise extend what Larrabee could do without changing the hardware itself.

The implementation would be different enough from Intel's normal central processor units to be optimized for graphics, however. The core itself would contain logic to handle graphics as well as many simultaneous code threads, and would have a dedicated vector processing unit to greatly improve the potential power of the chip for its intended role.

Larrabee would also reduce some of the traffic problems that can bog down existing multi-core chips. The design will use an ultra-wide "ring" network in between the numerous cores to reduce the lag between many different cores, even when processing many tasks at the same time.

Each core would also have extensions to handle 64-bit data in addition to multithreading, further optimizing the depth and number of duties Larrabee can handle at once.

The new architecture isn't due to appear until 2009 or 2010 but will first be launched directly into the mainstream instead of the high-end workstation and server markets Intel often uses as its testbeds for its central processors. It also wouldn't require a substantial break for developers and would support the DirectX and OpenGL graphics libraries used to make existing software, including games and other 3D apps.