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Intel Scraps Larrabee for Now

It was a bit sudden when Intel (INTC) announced that it was scrapping plans to release its long-announced Larrabee GPU chip. But the plans to instead release a software development platform is likely just a temporary stop, because this is a market that Intel is simply not going to write off.

One reason that Intel had started the project at all was positioning. Leading GPU vendors were showing devices with significant power and whose matrix math processing capabilities (used to render graphics) also gave them an entrée into specialized number-crunching. And, in fact, Nvidia (NVDA) has its Tesla supercomputing products based on GPU chips. Ceding the "power computing" ground is not something the company would want to do.

Furthermore, and maybe of greater practical consideration, is that, according to Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research, "they saw the spending by the OEMs on silicon shifting away from the CPUs toward the GPUs." Money that would have gone to Intel instead was headed toward Nvidia or AMD (AMD), which had acquired GPU manufacturer ATI.

So what Intel did was decide to go after the graphics market. Instead of using a custom design, the company wanted to leverage the x86 design in a multi-core chip with a big common L2 cache. "They thought you could get a better through-put with X86 architecture then with the current GPU architecture," he says. Had Intel pulled it off, it would have had offered some fierce competition. The brand name alone would have drawn many buyers, Peddie says, and the existing scale of manufacturing would have given it a significant competitive advantage. And given that the technology could be more widely used in high performance computing, the chip was probably destined for many uses in addition to being a GPU.

Delays in parts of the project are what caused Intel to scrap the release plans. But the scrap pile may be small and of relatively short duration. Peddie says that the chip had some power going for it, having been able to demonstrate actual teraflop performance on a measured test. (Some GPU chips promise faster performance, but this hasn't been shown under real world conditions.) And he's guessing that this is only a temporary set-back, with a Larrabee 2 on the horizon, "when they get everything back into sync."

Image courtesy Intel.

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