Intel’s discarded GPU continues to circulate.
The hardware collector YJFY has posted images of what they claim is Intel’s 2nd Generation Larrabee graphics card, which was never commercialized but existed as evaluation samples. Intel’s Larrabee 2 graphics board was supposed to be based on the Knights Corner chip, and this is the first time (supposed) images of this device have been published.
The purported 2nd Generation Larrabee graphics card features a processor that resembles Intel’s Knights Corner, which was demonstrated at the SC11 conference in November 2011. The processor is a late 2011 engineering sample featuring the QBAY stepping. It is rumored to have 60 cores and operate at 1 GHz, matching the specifications of Intel’s KNC. This processor, unlike production Xeon Phi ‘Knights Corner’ products, is paired with 4GB of GDDR5 memory.
An early evaluation sample, the board features diagnostic LEDs, multiple probe connectors, and various jumpers. It also includes a DVI port, which is commonly used for video output. Given that Intel’s Tom Forsyth, a developer on the Larrabee project, stated that Knights Corner silicon still includes GPU components such as graphics outputs and texture samples, it’s not surprising to find a DVI connector on a KNC-based board.
Even though we cannot be certain that the card in the image is Larrabee 2 based on Knights Corner silicon, there is a great deal of direct and indirect evidence to suggest that we are dealing with the 2nd Generation Larrabee.
“Remember that KNC and LRB2 are the same chip. The die contains texture samplers and a video outport “Forsyth said. It is still a graphics-capable component despite not being tested, turned on, or exposed to software.
Larrabee was intended to be a client PC-oriented graphics processor and a high-performance computing co-processor based on 4-way Hyper-Threaded Atom-like x86 cores with AVX-512 extensions that offered flexible programmability and competitive performance. After Intel determined that Larrabee did not meet expectations for graphics workloads (as it was still primarily a CPU with graphics capabilities), it refocused the entire project on high-performance computing (HPC) workloads, resulting in the creation of Xeon Phi.
“[In 2005, when Larrabee was conceived, Intel] needed something that was CPU-like in terms of programming but GPU-like in terms of number crunching power,” explained Forsyth. “[…] Larrabee was designed with a very wide SIMD unit and was intended to be a mature CPU with coherent caches, well-ordered memory rules, good memory protection, true multitasking, real threads, Linux/FreeBSD support, etc.”
But eventually, Intel’s Xeon Phi, the MIC (much-integrated core) architecture, and other massively-parallel CPU architectures (Sony’s Cell, Sun’s Niagara) failed to offer competitive performance against Nvidia’s compute GPUs, which is why Intel decided to re-enter the discrete graphics GPU market with Arc GPUs and introduce its own Ponte Vecchio compute GPUs.