Saturday, September 4, 2010

Intel Graphics in Sandy Bridge: Good Enough

As I and others expected, Intel is gradually rolling out how much better the graphics in its next generation will be. Anandtech got an early demo part of Sandy Bridge and checked out the graphics, among other things. The results show that the "good enough" performance I argued for in my prior post (Nvidia-based Cheap Supercomputing Coming to an End) will be good enough to sink third party low-end graphics chip sets. So it's good enough to hurt Nvidia's business model, and make their HPC products fully carry their own development burden, raising prices notably.

The net is that for this early chip, with early device drivers, at low, but usable resolution (1024x768) there's adequate performance on games like "Batman: Arkham Asylum," "Call of Duty MW2," and a bunch of others, significantly including "Worlds of Warfare." And it'll play Blue-Ray 3D, too.

Anandtech's conclusion is "If this is the low end of what to expect, I'm not sure we'll need more than integrated graphics for non-gaming specific notebooks." I agree. I'd add desktops, too. Nvidia isn't standing still, of course; on the low end they are saying they'll do 3D, too, and will save power. But integrated graphics are, effectively, free. It'll be there anyway. Everywhere. And as a result, everything will be tuned to work best on that among the PC platforms; that's where the volumes will be.

Some comments I've received elsewhere on my prior post have been along the lines of "but Nvidia has such a good computing model and such good software support – Intel's rotten IGP can't match that." True. I agree. But.

There's a long history of ugly architectures dominating clever, elegant architectures that are superior targets for coding and compiling. Where are the RISC-based CAD workstations of 15+ years ago? They turned into PCs with graphics cards. The DEC Alpha, MIPS, Sun SPARC, IBM POWER and others, all arguably far better exemplars of the computing art, have been trounced by X86, which nobody would call elegant. Oh, and the IBM zSeries, also high on the inelegant ISA scale, just keeps truckin' through the decades, most recently at an astounding 5.2 GHz.

So we're just repeating history here. Volume, silicon technology, and market will again trump elegance and computing model.

PostScript: According to Bloomberg, look for a demo at Intel Developer Forum next week.