But most important for Intel, Ct will work with Larrabee, the company’s first dedicated graphics chip since the i740 was released in the late 1990s, and its first processor that absolutely needs a tool like Ct to appeal to the 3-D game programmers that are Larrabee’s initial target customers.
For Intel, Larrabee is a chance to enter a whole new market, competing directly with nVidia and with AMD’s ATI graphics division. Larrabee, it turns out, is a fusion of dedicated graphics CPU and x86 technology. “If a software tool exists, it exists on x86,” says the Intel engineer. “We’ll pull the whole x86 ecosystem into the graphics space.”
Larrabee will not be a separate graphics chip in the same sense that an nVidia or ATI GPU is. Yet if Larrabee and Ct work as predicted, the days of discrete graphics processors may soon be over.
“Ct is a good match for Larrabee,” says Marc Snir, head of the High Performance Computing Laboratory at the University of Illinois. “We have thought of Ct as something that is much more attractive than CUDA or OpenCL for developing data-parallel code.”
Snir adds that Ct could become a versatile language for “general-purpose GPU code and the use of GPUs as accelerators for scientific and high-performance computing.”
Intel hasn’t yet announced how many cores there will be in Larrabee when it ships early next year, but a good guess would be 16. That’s 16 cores with 4 execution threads each for a total of 64 threads. With Moore’s Law doubling those numbers every 18 months thereafter, in three years, that’s 256 execution threads on one chip. The big challenge will be making that work with software written for older Intel chips and running all of the traditional application programming interfaces like OpenGL and DirectX efficiently and transparently across 256 threads and more.
Thanks to Ct, programmers apparently won’t even have to know it is happening.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.