Comment With Intel sending its “Larrabee” graphics co-processor out to pasture late last year – before it even reached the market – it is natural to assume that the chip maker is looking for something to boost the performance of high performance compute clusters and the supercomputer workloads they run. Nvidia has its Tesla co-processors and its CUDA environment. Advanced Micro Devices has its FireStream co-processors and the OpenCL environment it has helped create. And Intel has been relegated to a secondary role.
Intel’s long term graphics accelerator project code-named “Larabee. It’s an unfortunate side effect of losing all that money by time delays on the project that forces Intel now to reuse the processor as a component in a High Performance Computer (so-called Super Computer). The competition have been providing hooks or links into their CPUs and motherboard for auxiliary processors or co-processors for a number of years. AMD notably created a CPU socket with open specs that FPGA’s could slide into. Field Programmable Gate Arrays are big huge general purpose CPUs with all kinds of ways to reconfigure the circuits inside of them. So huge optimizations can be made in hardware that were previously done in Machine Code/Assembler by the compilers for that particular CPU. Moving from a high level programming language to an optimized hardware implementation of an algorithm can speed a calculation up by several orders of magnitude (1,000 times in some examples). AMD has had a number of wins in some small niches of the High Performance Computing market. But not all algorithms are created equal, and not all of them lend themselves to implementation in hardware (FPGA or it’s cousin the ASIC). So co-processors are a very limited market for any manufacturer trying to sell into the HPC market. Intel isn’t going to garner a lot of extra sales by throwing development versions of Larabee out to the HPC developers. Another strike is the dependence on a PCI express bus for communications to the Larabee chipset. While PCI Express is more than fast enough for graphics processing, an HPC setup would prefer a CPU socket adjacent to the general purpose CPUs. The way AMD has designed their motherboards all sockets are on the same motherboard and can communicate directly to one another instead of using the PCI Express bus. Thus, Intel loses again trying to market Larabee in the HPC market. One can only hope that other secret code-name projects like the CPU with 80 cores will see the light of day soon when it makes a difference rather than suffer the opportunity costs of a very delayed launch of Larabee.