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IDF Spring 2009: Intel Larrabee to feature 1.7 billion transistors?




In the wake of a recession, Intel turned IDF Spring into a small, local focused event, but still at least one Western-world news office got in – and deserve “pic of the week” award with no questions asked.

Pat Gelsinger showed up the wafer, showcasing LRB [Larrabee, all of major Intel projects have a three-letter short, similar to airport naming] chip for the first time in general public. If we compare the picture to some previous wafer comparisons and Mr. Gelsinger’s fingers, we would put the die slightly above 600mm2. PC Perspective agreed with the estimate and went as far to count that there are 64 dies on a single wafer. 64 dies on a 300mm2 45nm wafer… can’t be cheap to make LRB even with 100% yield, that’s for sure.

According to our sources, first Larrabee chips will be built using 45nm High-K Hafnium-loving process with a move to 32nm a year after. Now, if Bloomfield die [Core i7] is 263mm2 in size and is consisted out of 731 million transistors, that means that Larrabee’s 600mm2 die would end somewhere in the 1.65-1.75B transistor range.

If you’re not impressed at the specs of this chip, with its 12 P55C-based cores + Vector units, think again. ATI is testing 40nm manufacturing with RV740, a $99 chip featuring 826 million transistors. Intel’s “test” has more than double that. However, the entrance into the world of cGPU or GPGPU won’t be that easy. From the hardware side, ATI is currently shipping 959M parts [4890] and 1.92B with their dual-GPU cards [4850X2/4870X2], nVidia ships 1.4B part for almost a year now [GTX260/275/280/285], or 2.8 billion transistor part if you count their dual-GPU part – GeForce GTX295.

Recently, we learned the targeted die-size for GT300 and saw that nVidia isn’t changing itself, and you can expect that the next-gen DX11 part will fit somewhere between Larrabee and GTX295. Yes, with just one die. Performance wise, look for strong accent on GPGPU applications and not-so-much accent on games, with LRB performing in the range of mainstream cards…

We cannot estimate the current cost of the Larrabee-based graphics card, since LRB chip features 1024-bit internal and 512-bit external crossbar bus with 1Tbps internal bandwidth. Externally, if Larrabee connects to 1024-2048 MB of GDDR5 memory at 1.0 GHz clock [4.0 GT/s], we would see a card with 256 GB/s, gaining the title of the world’s highest bandwidth graphics product.

The ssage of a 512-bit interface will result in slightly more complex PCB [much less than GDDR3-powered GTX200 series], so that will not radically increase the complexity and the price. Thus, we estimate that LRB probably cannot sell for anything less than $350-450 given the cost of BoM [Bill of Materials], even in 2010. That might change, though – if Qimonda really stops being around, prices of GDDR5 memory might skyrocket.

However, you should never underestimate Intel and its marketing and sales muscle. The company is famous for its “buy a CPU, get a motherboard” tactic on System Integrators, so think twice if you think AMD or nVidia can walk all over Larrabee. We end with a message to Jen-Hsun, nVidia’s CEO: Larrabee is no longer a PowerPoint presentation, what do you plan to do now… open a can of whoop-ass?

Original Author: Theo Valich

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