Wednesday, September 23, 2009

IDF 2009 Larrabee demo

Intel showed their new Larrabee GPU publicly for the first time at their annual developer conference. They showed Larrabee running a ray tracer that was rendering QuakeWars geometry.

The enthusiast scene (e.g. beyond3d) was not impressed by this demo, because, frankly, it wasn't very impressive at an emotional level. The scene was static, no people in it, just waves and a few very small helicopters. It's strange that they didn't even move the camera, which is something that a ray tracing engine should easily be able to to. The camera angle they chose was effective for showing dynamic reflections, but keeping the camera locked down meant a much less interesting demo.

For the same amount of effort they could have come up with a much more visually and emotionally interesting demo. For example, a cascade of brightly colored chrome balls tumbling down a staircase, which would show off both physics and ray tracing.

That they didn't use this early opportunity to sell Larrabee indicates that they don't know how to market add-on GPUs to consumers. Which makes sense, since it has been many years since they've needed to do this.

Their current demos are all targeted to (a) test out Larrabee features, and (b) educate developers as to the potential strengths of Larrabee. They are similar to Microsoft DirectX samples. But I think Intal also needs to develop showy "AMD/ATI Ruby" style demos to win the hearts of enthusiasts.

Groo at semiaccurate.com suggests that the IDF demo was shown on early, barely functional Larrabee silicon. If true, that could help explain why the demo was so limited. But by this time in the GPU's lifecycle there should be more marketing -- even if totally pre-rendered -- showing what the GPU will do. So far the bland GDC2009 meteor demo is the only thing we've seen. I think Larrabee needs more sizzle, like this early Sony Playstation 2 demo reel. (Sony also had some great interactive tech demos of things like feathers and pollen particles, but I haven't been able to find online videos in my limited searching.)

Intel's current marketing approach seems to indicate that they are not serious about competing for the enthusiast add-on GPU market. Perhaps they are just waiting until it's closer to the time Larrabee is available for market, but my guess is that they just don't understand how to play the game. It would be a shame if Larrabee is a technical success but a sales failure due to poor marketing execution.

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