Where is Larrabee today?
The question you're probably asking yourself is "Is Larrabee dead?" and the answer we can give you is a flat out - NO. Intel knows that the future of the company is at stake: if AMD successfully fuses its CPU technology with ATI's GPU technology and if nVidia implements an ARM core inside the GPU, Intel has to have an answer to that.
Too much money and human resources are invested in Larrabee to just let it go. Instead, Intel moved the best of the best, so called "Champions of Intel"
into the Larrabee group. The "CoI"
are actually engineers from various projects such as Nehalem [not exactly hard thing to do, since both Nehalem and Larrabee teams are located in Oregon, plus there is always an Intel Express, daily plane shuttle between CA and OR]. Now, we are not sure what brilliant CPU engineers could do in the creation of Larrabee, but according to the sources, working with Dadi Perlmutter is a very positive experience. Some of the sources we talked to sources didn't have kind words for Pat Gelsinger or Sean Maloney, though. Given that more than two sources told us that, we believe this attitude is present in more places than Hillsborough, Folsom, Braunschweig or Indian locations.
According to the information we have, Larrabee is at this moment - "13-18 months out", putting the launch into 2011, rather than 2010. However, we do not believe this is a bad thing. If engineers had their way, Intel would probably keep their official events without mention of Larrabee until current year, and prepare the world for the arrival of discrete graphics product in 2011 and a "Haswell CPU + LRB GPU" in 2012. If the company launches in 2010, our sources doubt that the product will be anywhere but ready and you can expect that at least one reviewer could find an application that doesn't work as expected. In that case, "optimizations" such as the recent Intel's 3DMarkVantage one will not go lightly.
Recently, there were a slew of rumors that Larrabee is about to get cancelled, as Larrabee was allegedly "Gen1", "Gen2,", "Gen3", "Gen4" and so on ‑ taking into the account the amount of changes that happened to the silicon. In a way, former Intel engineers that joined competing companies have every right to say that Larrabee went through multiple revisions of silicon and call them "generations". B silicon is significantly different than A silicon. However, given that the in-order core is still unchanged and that the problems were in the field of filling and syncing those cores up, we would say that Larrabee is still first gen, but that is not the silicon that will come out. Intel doesn't have issues such as AMD or nVidia, since the company owns 45nm Fabs and can do whatever they need to have the silicon working like a clockwork
Now, we've dismissed the generation 3-4 rumor, and yet stated that the current silicon will never come to market. Here's a big one - Intel knows that they've completely messed up with the current generation and the company decided to trash away the part of current design and re-design the SIMD units from ground up. This means the current diagrams featuring 16-wide SIMD unit are out the door, because that design doesn't work. Newly designed SIMD units will still probably be 16-wide and take AVX instructions, but it will be GPU-like and not CPU-like. Unfortunately, we cannot disclose any more details on the changes at hand, but we were told that the architectural changes are mandatory. The original Larrabee design cannot be described as anything better than a very, very expensive learning curve and it is up to the "second Larrabee" to become the first generation to come to market.
There are two ways that Larrabee can take, no middle ground is allowed. What can happen is that engineers fix the underlying issues and that Larrabee becomes what it was supposed to be, or it could turn into a very costly mistake, which would not be fixable simply by acquiring Imagination Technologies. Bear in mind that if Intel had acquired ATI Technologies, AMD would be cornered, just like nVidia.
If Larrabee fails to impress, no harm done - Core 2 architecture earned [and still is earning?] billions of dollars, so even a 3-4 billion dollar "mistake" could be easily forgotten, though. Imagination Technologies PowerVR core at 4 GHz could be powerful enough to start competing with mainstream parts form ATI and nVidia. However, somehow we doubt that Intel's minds would allow for PowerVR IP to work on equal teams, and if that certain VMware subsidiary continues to create crippled drivers "as ordered", Intel could find themselves with a nVidia Tegra chip beating the graphics performance of Sandy Bridge CPU. Where next?
Intel as a company is an undisputed technology leader and even though it was known to kill unsuccessful projects in the past, this bid is the future of the company. With Larrabee, it will be easy to expand the CPU portion of Larrabee and try to persuade the world that x86 architecture is here to stay, from ARM-competing parts to high-performance computing. If not, Intel may be big, but ARM has grand plans for entering the low-ASP area and that could mean the beginning of a war for margins. Do bear in mind that ARM IP was in over four billion chips in 2008, so leader in installed user base is ARM, not Intel or AMD. On the high-end, nVidia leads the parallel world and now has the support from fat governmental contracts such as 10+ PFLOPS Oak Ridge setup
. With the announcement that Australians will go for 1 Exa-FLOPS machine by 2020
and currently are building software on nVidia GeForce and Tesla cards, Larrabee has potential to enter every market - from a cellphone to a supercomputer. This one is too big to be missed, folks.
Every project has its challenges, and Larrabee has definitely had its fair share. If Intel kept a cool head and didn't start pre-announcing the architecture, causing all the legal and engineering pain, this product would probably be welcomed by analysts, press, and the like. Instead, we currently have a Boeing 787 in the form of silicon. The Larrabee is going through significant changes in the architecture and only time [and money] will tell what will happen with the project.
Will marketing and sales cause more short fuses in engineering team or will the execs leave engineers in peace to "create the most complex part Intel has ever created"
? What happens from now on will define Intel as a company. We have a very exciting 12-18 months ahead of us.
Again, our message to Intel's executive team is very simple: Leave Larrabee teams alone. You've done enough.
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