Tuesday, November 8th 2016

Intel Hires Raja Koduri, to Develop Discrete GPUs, This Time for Real

Intel hired Raja Koduri, who resigned as head of AMD's Radeon Technologies Group (RTG), earlier this week. Koduri has been made Senior Vice President and Chief Architect of Intel's future discrete GPUs. That's right, Intel has renewed its dreams to power high-end graphics cards that compete with AMD and NVIDIA. Intel's last attempt at a discrete GPU was "Larrabee," which evolved into a super-scalar multi-core processor for HPC applications under the Xeon Phi line.

This development heralds two major theories. One, that Intel's collaboration with AMD RTG on graphics IP could only go further from here, and what is a multi-chip module of Intel and AMD IP now, could in the future become a true heterogeneous die of Intel's and AMD's IP. Two, that the consolidation of AMD's graphics assets and IP into a monolithic entity as RTG, could make it easier to sell it lock, stock, and barrel, possibly to Intel.
Intel places great faith in Koduri's ability to either develop a major product line from scratch, or to effect tectonic shifts in the industry, such as Apple's transition to the x86 architecture for its Mac product line.

Intel could have one of three approaches to build a discrete GPU from scratch. The first and most obvious one would be to scale up its current gen 9.5 architecture. The trouble is, that Intel's SIMD parallelism is more transistor-heavy than even NVIDIA. It takes roughly 400-500 million transistors (coarse estimate) on the "Kaby Lake" die to build a GPU with 24 execution units. With 10 billion transistors, we're looking at around 480 execution units, if not more.

The second approach would be to build a new graphics architecture from scratch. Something like this, even with Intel's deep R&D pockets, could take a team led by Koduri 3-4 years. The resulting architecture has to relevant to the market of the time, or end up missing the bus like Larrabee. The third approach would be to either license or acquire GPU IP from AMD. Koduri has the reputation of a tech business strategist as much as an IP guru to effect such a change.

These are strange times in the vale, as silicon giants Broadcom and Qualcomm look to coalesce into the world's third largest chipmaker, and Marvell with Cavium follow on. Stranger things are currently happening between past industry rivals, than the possibility of Intel acquiring RTG from AMD in exchange for cash, and allowing AMD's merger with another chipmaker without affecting its x86 license. This is just a really audacious theory.
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