Intel has announced details of their upcoming Larrabee chip, an multi-core x86-based processor that, according to senior principle engineer Larry Seiler, "combines the full programmability of the CPU with the kinds of parallelism and other special capabilities of graphics processors." Based on multiple Pentium CPUs with 64-bit instructions and multi-threading, Larrabee will offer high-performance graphics crunching - it is compatible with Microsoft's DirectX and Apple's Open CL - but also be suited to workstations.
"A key characteristic of this vector processor is a property we call being vector complete...You can run 16 pixels in parallel, 16 vertices in parallel, or 16 more general program indications in parallel" Larry Seiler, senior principle engineer, Visual Computing Group, Intel
Larrabee will be a direct challenge to ATI and NVIDIA, who currently own the vast majority of the standalone graphics market. Where Larrabee differs is in its flexibility, using software to manage task scheduling so that different functions can have differently set-up rendering pipelines, for instance.
The actual number of cores could range from 8 to 48, although Intel would not be drawn on exactly how many they will include to begin with. Estimates suggest an 8-core entry-level Larrabee chip launching in 2009, with more complex versions rolling out after that. Performance scales, supposedly, almost linearly, meaning a 16-core Larrabee CPU will perform almost twice as fast as an 8-core version.