IDF: Intel’s Larrabee Makes a Quiet Debut

Intel CEO Paul Otellini
Intel Executive Vice President Sean Maloney speaks at IDF 2009. Source: Intel.

SAN FRANCISCO — What should have been Intel’s most exciting keynote of the day here at the Intel Developer Forum turned into a disappointment.

While the company announced a new server platform, new Xeon processors and several other technology advances, the first public demonstration of “Larrabee,” Intel’s attempt at a high-performance graphics processor, proved less than exciting here Tuesday.

Sean Maloney, the new head of the Intel Architecture Group, tried to put a light-hearted spin on the demo, stopping in front of the monitor showing off the Larrabee demo and asking the audience “Is there anyone here who cares about Larrabee and what’s going on with it?”

There was in fact a lot of interest in Larrabee going into this IDF as people wanted to see what Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) would bring to bear against established veterans nVidia (NASDAQ: NVDA) and ATI/AMD (NYSE: AMD). The demo was a ray traced version of the game “Enemy Territory: Quake Wars,” featuring the image of a ship at a dock. The only animation showed ocean waves and an occasional aircraft flying overhead. There was no interactivity or animation and the video was choppy.

Maloney gave no release date or product specifics, would not say the target markets or even the manufacturing process even though Intel has been talking about manufacturing quite a bit since the show began. The last stated release date from Intel was either late this year or early 2010. That does not seem likely now.

“I never thought they were on time and I don’t think they are on track,” said Jim McGregor, chief technology analyst with In-Stat. “And I don’t think they are going to make their goal. Their goal that Pat [Gelsinger, former senior vice president who headed the Larrabee project] said last year was if it can’t compete on the highest end, they won’t release it.”

But Tony Massimini, chief of technology for Semico Research said not to panic yet. “Intel is always very conservative,” he told InternetNews.com. “They don’t want to promise more than they can deliver. So they are just going to stay mum until they know they can deliver big time.”

Joanne Feeney, managing director and senior research analyst for FTN Midwest Securities, was also a little hesitant to declare Larrabee stillborn. “It seems like they are not ready to show us something spectacular. Either means it’s late or it’s late,” she joked.

She added “They know how to do graphics. They are just trying to do something a whole lot better. I expected to hear something. But I believe they’ve hired the right people. I believe they are putting enough resources into it. I’m not worried.”

Page 2: Low-power Xeons and mini-servers

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Low-power Xeons and mini-servers

The Xeon, long a staple of big iron servers, is working its way further down the food chain. The company announced two new Xeon 3400 processors, which are part of the low-end of the Xeon line. They will come in 30 watt and 45 watt configurations.

“It wasn’t too long ago that we were squeezing 30 watts into ugly notebooks. So fitting 30 watts into this category is an amazing thing,” said Maloney. Intel also announced a new “micro server” reference design for making small, very low power servers using the new Xeons.

“The time is right to push ahead and create a new segment. We see very much the need to create this new category. It won’t replace old servers, it will augment them,” said Maloney.

Intel also formally introduced “Jasper Forest,” a Xeon chip designed specifically for the embedded networking and communications markets. The chip comes with integrated PCI Express 2.0, virtualization, a non-transparent bridge and RAID 6 to create essentially a system-on-a-chip design but for high-end embedded designs.

Maloney’s speech also covered the very high end, which entailed the Itanium and Nehalem-EX processor. He reaffirmed Intel’s commitment to the chip, which has settled into its own niche, stating that there were three more generations of product planned and that Tukwila, the quad-core design, is due for the first quarter of 2010.

But Nehalem-EX, the eight-core product, received the lion’s share of talk. Maloney noted that it shares a lot of technologies with Itanium, like the QuickPath Interconnect, the same memory hub, the same I/O hub, and shared RAS (reliability, availability, scalability) features.

Nehalem-EX is aimed at the eight socket and up market, which isn’t a big market, but it is an expensive one. “A lot of people say there’s no demand here. We think there is a tremendous demand for application performance in this segment, and we will see more energy going in from this,” said Maloney.

He promised 15 new designs with eight or more processors in both scalable rack mounted and blade designs. A server like that could handle 128 threads and 2TB of memory.

Maloney also discussed Westmere-EP, which will replace the current generation of 45nm Nehalem-EP Xeon 5500 processors. Like the rest of the Westmere family, these new processors will use 32nm process designs, the second generation of Intel’s high-k metal gate materials to reduce heat, offer improved energy efficiency, 10GbE, and enhanced security.

He also mentioned the next generation of vPro will come with the Westmere family and feature anti-theft technology, active remote management support and integrated KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) support.

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