Friday, May 28, 2010

No, Larrabee is Not Dead

We interrupt our series of posts on virtualization for a public service announcement: The numerous reports of Larrabee being dead are, at a minimum, greatly exaggerated. (Note, a significant addition after posting was made below, marked in red.)

Larrabee is the highly-publicized erstwhile mega discrete graphics chip from Intel, the subject of flame wars with Nvidia's CEO, whose initial product introduction was cancelled last December because its performance wasn't yet competitive.

Now, a recent Technology @ Intel blog post about Intel graphics (An Update On Our Graphics-related Programs) has resulted in a flurry of "Larrabee is Dead!" postings. There's Anandtech (Intel Kills Larrabee GPU), Device Magazine (Intel Cancels Larrabee Project), PCWorld (Intel Cancels Larrabee), ZDNet (Intel officially (again) kills off Larrabee), the Inquirer (Larrabee will not be), and … I'll stop there, since a quick Google will find you many more.

In the minority is eWeek (Intel Clarifies Graphics Plans, Hints at HPC Project), taking a balanced "this is what the blog actually said" approach, with SemiAccurate (Larrabee alive and well) on the other side, considering those "dead Larrabee" posts this a case of mass flakiness. I agree.

All the doom-sayers should actually listen to what Paul Otellini, Intel's CEO, said at Intel's Investor Meeting of May 11 2010 – not to what someone else interpreted what he heard his cousin's dog say Otellini said, but to the words he actually said. The full webcasts are archived and publically available. In particular, listen to the last segment, Q&A, starting at time 1:39, when someone named Hans asked about Larrabee with the comment that it hadn't appeared in the prior presentations.

Here's my partial transcript of the response, and I urge you not to believe me. It's a pain to transcribe, and I'm sure I got something wrong. Go listen to the webcast. Some words of mine, and a comment or two, are inserted in brackets [like this].

"Everything you saw in the roadmap today does not have Larrabee built into it. … [our mainstream product will be] based on evolving our mainstream integrated graphics products… [but there will be a] sea change in the architecture with Sandy Bridge… by going onto the chip and moving from two generations behind silicon to [current] silicon you get… best of class [best for integrated graphics, which isn't saying much, but even that will be a huge change for Intel if it happens].
"… In terms of Larrabee, we did not stop the project. If we made any mistake with Larrabee, we probably should not have talked about something that was high risk and long term. We have not stopped the project. We have shipped STVs out. We're looking at how and when to bring it to market. It still has very very high promise in areas of throughput computing and in terms of a general reprogrammable graphics engine using small IA cores. We still like the idea. But we've taken the risk associated with a new architecture out of our roadmap over the next few years so we have the flexibility to stay competitive while still working on it."
Nothing in the tech blog entry says anything more than is said above. It's not in the roadmap, so when the blog says "We will not bring a discrete graphics product to market, at least in the short-term" – the statement that fired up the nay-sayers' posts – the blog is simply re-stating the official party line, an action which is doubtless far from an accident.

Also, please note that Otellini did say, twice, "we did not stop the project" and that they are looking at how and when to bring it to market. All of this is completely consistent with the position taken last January that I reported in another post (The Problem with Larrabee), about relating things I picked up in a talk by Tom Forsyth about "the future of Intel graphics despite what the press says." There has been no change.


Contrast this with another case: InfiniBand. Intel realized, late in the game and after publicity, that its initial IB product would also be noncompetitive. There, the response was to just fold up the shop, completely. People were reassigned, and the organization ceased to be. (I was there when this all happened, as a significant, working, designing, writing committee-leading IBM rep on the IB standard committee.) The situation is totally different for Larrabee; the shop is open and working, and high-level statements saying so have been repeated. This indicates a very different attitude, a continuing commitment to the technology.

With that kind of consistent high-level corporate backing, to say nothing of the large number of very talented individuals working on Larrabee, were they to kill it there would be a bit more of a ruckus than a sentence or two in a tech blog post.

It must have been a very slow news day.

We now return you to our previously scheduled blog posts, which will resume after Memorial Day.


Robert said...

Intel seems to be conflicted about their many-core strategy. They really hate the idea of using a non-IA core in one of their products, but the nvidia experience suggests that radically simplified cores really are the way to go. Larrabee was based on a story about how there were advantages to be had from having IA in your many-core product, but that story was getting hard to tell convincingly, so now they're rethinking it. It sounds like they're kicking around several candidates for the replacement story, but it's too early to tell which one they will eventually adopt.

Anonymous said...

Greg Pfister said...

Thanks for the link, but the event it points to isn't the one I was referring to.

Igor Ostrovsky said...

This was a timely post. :-)

3 days later, this happens:

generic cialis 20mg said...

Interesting article, added his blog to Favorites

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.