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Intel Shelves Larrabee Project

Last month, Intel‘s Larrabee was the star of SC09 (Super Computing 2009, Portland, Oragon; November 14-20). During his keynote, holding a prototype unit of Larrabee, Intel’s CTO Justin Rattner asked, “Would you like to see it do its thing?” Then he let the test unit run, with a SGEMM performance meter attached to it (to measure single-precision general matrix multiply subroutine). “We were getting tantalizingly close to one teraflop [one trillion floating points per second],” he later concluded.

Last Sunday, Intel spokesperson Nick Knupffer revealed Larrabee had been put on hiatus. In a recent CNET article, he was quoted as saying, “Larrabee silicon and software development are behind where we hoped to be at this point in the project. As a result, our first Larrabee product will not be launched as a standalone discrete graphics product” (”Intel: Initial Larrabee Graphics Chip Cancelled,” December 4, 2009).

Mark Priscaro from NVIDIA public relations office said, “The fact that a company with Intel’s technical prowess and financial resources has struggled so hard to succeed with parallel computing shows just how exceptionally difficult a challenge this is.”

Intel first unveiled its plan to develop Larrabee in SIGGRAPH 2008. The chip was expected to debut in 2009-2010. It was meant to be a hybrid GPU-CPU with many cores, and many more threads. In essence, it was to become a chip powerful enough to reclaim some of the markets GPU leader NVIDIA has wrestled away from Intel.

Teraflop computing is not a tantalizing dream but a reality with certain GPUs. With 240 processing cores, NVIDIA’s Tesla C1060 GPU, now available in the market, can deliver up to 933 gigaflops, according to the product spec sheet. That’s less then a hundred gigaflops shy of one teraflop. Perhaps more impressive, the AMD FireStream 9270 GPU can deliver up to 1.2   teraflops, according to its makers. Street prices for NVIDIA Tesla C1060 and AMD FireStream 9270 are roughly $1,200 to $1,500.

So what’s to become of that Intel teraflop dream? Knupffer said Larrabee would live on “as a software development platform for internal and external use.” It’s an ambiguous explanation, open to interpretation.

Intel CTO Rattner’s demonstration at SC09, which now seems more like history than testimony, can be viewed in the Intel YouTube channel clip below:

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Kenneth Wong's avatar
Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering’s resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at [email protected] or share your thoughts on this article at

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