UMPCs, Skulltrail and Larrabee

Intel UMPC Platform

Intel also unveiled their plans for a new UMPC platform codenamed “McCaslin”.  Several of these UMPCs were shown running Linux and that created quite a stir initially.  Intel is still going to be using Vista and the Origami Experience introduced during this past CES.  The platform will initially use the A100 and A110 processor (ultra low power) and the Intel 945G/ICH7 chipset combination.

Intel IDF Spring 2007 Beijing - Penryn, Skulltrail and Larrabee - Processors 7

Next year into 2008 Intel will release the “Menlow” platform for UMPCs that will use a new processor codenamed “Silverthorne” and a new chipset codenamed “Poulsbo”.  There isn’t much information available on these parts, but this CPU is still based on the 45nm technology and the chipset will be a single chip design.  Both of these products were designed from the ground up for UMPC platforms so we should see dramatic power and heat decreases.

Intel Skulltrail – matching AMD’s 4×4 setup

A surprise announcement from the floor of IDF was a platform built strictly for the enthusiast — “Skulltrail”.  To quote from Intel’s press release:

“Building on last week’s launch of the Intel Core 2 Extreme processor QX6800, a new dual processor-based platform for later this year will arrive, codenamed “Skulltrail”.  It will feature two sockets for quad core processors and four PCI express slots for advanced graphics and allow enthusiasts to take advantage of the Intel Core microarchitecture’s headroom and scaling.”

Wow.  Even though Intel demonstrated an eight-core system dubbed the V8 at CES this year powered by two Xeon 2.4 GHz processors, this enthusiast branding of it came as a surprise to everyone.  Though Intel has said that the platform will support two processor sockets, they have not yet revealed if they will modify the LGA775 socket currently used in the Core 2 platform or use the LGA771 socket currently on Xeon motherboards; the options are open for both. 

Intel IDF Spring 2007 Beijing - Penryn, Skulltrail and Larrabee - Processors 8

The four PCI Express slots on the platform will support multiple graphics card of course, but currently Intel’s 975X only supports CrossFire.  Now that CrossFire is an AMD technology, I am making a guess that Intel will try to open up support for BOTH CrossFire and SLI.  Of course with FOUR of these slots you can expect this platform to work with three or more cards for physics acceleration. 

I am sure that many of you will be drawing comparisons to AMD’s own QuadFX “quad-father” father system that was released in late November of last year.  It featured a pair of dual-core processors on a dual-socket motherboard and four PCI Express slots for multiple graphics cards; AMD has said it will be upgradeable to quad-core processors down the road making it AMD’s own “V8” system. 

In all honesty, most of this seems like overkill for the time being, as most users won’t be willing to shell out the kind of dough required for the hardware.  That being said, who wouldn’t dream of owning an eight-core Core 2 system!

Project Larrabee – Intel’s Secret GPU?

A short time ago, a job posting from Intel was looking for employees for their “Larrabee Group” in the Visual Computing Group (VCG).  Many speculated that Intel was looking for some engineers in order to develop their high-end GPU product to compete with NVIDIA and AMD.

At IDF this week Intel did give us confirmation of the Larrabee project, without much detail, but did confirm that they are officially planning products based on the work of this group.  Intel is calling it a “highly parallel, IA-based programmable architecture” that will have the ability to “scale to trillions of floating point operations per second”.  Intel says the Larrabee design can be utilized in applications like scientific, recognition, visualization, financial analytics and health applications.

I don’t know if anyone notices, but those example applications are pretty similar to what AMD and NVIDIA claim to be able to do with their general purpose GPU initiatives (GPGPU).  NVIDIA’s CUDA attempts to allow developers to write code closer to standards like x86 and uses a custom compiler to translate it into code that can run efficiently on their G80 GPU products.  But with Larrabee, at least as we understand it now, these CPUs are going to x86 compatible (as given in the “IA-based programmable architecture” above) and should work nearly seamlessly with existing high-performance computing code.

It seems pretty obvious right now that Intel is aiming more towards this GPGPU segment than the pure gaming-graphics card, if only for the time being.  But don’t be surprised to see something from the Larrabee project make a stab into the GPU market as the hardware could potentially make the transition. Exciting times for GPU fans are ahead!

Final Thoughts

This was by no means all that was discussed at this Spring IDF in Beijing, but it does give us a good glimpse of the major announcements and technical discussions.  There are a lot of projects here that are still “open” as we have not seen enough detail to nail down the specifics.  We could potential see answers to our questions on Nehalem, Skulltrail and Larrabee at the Fall IDF this September or at the Microprocessor forum in May.  You know for sure that we’ll be there to cover it, so keep reading PC Perspective for all the juicy news and rumors on Intel’s upcoming hardware. 

If you have any questions or comments about this review, please jump over to this thread in our forums to let us know, or just to see what others are saying!

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