Intel's Sandy Bridge graphics tech: How good is it?

Sandy Bridge is the culmination of a major Intel design effort to achieve a respectable level of graphics performance and make it a standard feature in all Intel mainstream processors going forward. This week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, Intel engineers were fairly candid in explaining what Sandy Bridge can and can't do.

First, some background. A number of technical sessions at IDF were devoted to discussing Sandy Bridge's graphics technology and the design teams that came together to take this critical feature out of the chipset--a separate companion chip--and put it, for the first time, in the main processor, or CPU.

Intel integrated graphics silicon started appearing in many mainstream laptops about six years ago. And since then has shipped in the lion's share of PCs sold worldwide. While this has made Intel the leading graphics chip supplier, it has also made it the perennial target of criticism from gaming devotees, who claim--rightfully so in many cases--that Intel graphics fall woefully short in handling a number of mainstream games. In turn, this has led to Intel rebuttals and corresponding primers on Intel integrated graphics.

And Nvidia, a leading graphics chip supplier, has always offered its two cents on Intel's graphics technology. "Today's visual computing applications--like photo and video editing, playing games, and browsing the Web--use a GPU for the best experience," Nvidia said in a statement just prior to IDF. Standalone graphics processing units from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices almost invariably offer better performance, particularly on games, but can add cost and, in the case of laptops, can up power consumption requirements.

At IDF, Intel engineers described the markets they can, and cannot, address with Sandy Bridge's graphics. Sandy Bridge technology will be part of Intel Core i series mobile processors to be introduced into laptops early next year, with the first Sandy Bridge laptop announcements expected at the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

"We're not trying to target the most high-end discrete (standalone) card. We don't have the bandwidth, we don't have the power budget. We're trying to do the best experience for the mobile platform," said Opher Kahn, senior principal engineer on the Sandy Bridge design team. … Read more

Graphics chip market seeing big changes

To quote the iconic 1960s drummer Buddy Miles, the graphics chip market is "going through them changes."

As Nvidia falters, Advanced Micro Devices' ATI graphics unit is on the rise, spurred by "radical" shifts in the market, according to Mercury Research, which tracks the market for GPUs or graphics processing units.

"AMD surpassed Nvidia this quarter in overall shipments...(and) is now the leading supplier of standalone GPU and of notebook standalone GPUs, and the second largest supplier of graphics solutions overall," the Mercury Research report says. Intel is the longstanding No. 1 supplier because it includes the graphics function in its chipsets, which accompany its processors, and more recently is building the function into the central processing unit or CPU.

There are, of course, good reasons why AMD knocked Nvidia out of the No. 2 spot. AMD is gaining in laptop share just as the total mobile graphics market surpasses the total desktop graphics market for the first time, according to Mercury. In particular, AMD's ATI Radeon HD 5000 series (used in both laptops and desktops) saw a "a huge burst" in shipments in the second quarter, Mercury said.

And the composition of the mobile GPU market is changing. "The mobile integrated graphics CPU market...has surpassed both the mobile standalone graphics market and the mobile integrated chip set market for the first time." Translation: the CPU now subsumes the function of the GPU, due to Intel's newest mobile silicon based on the Core i3 and i5 processors. These chips take the GPU function--which had been separate--and combine it with the CPU.

How does AMD fit into this change? Its graphics chips… Read more

AMD tops Nvidia in graphics chip shipments

Advanced Micro Devices passed Nvidia in graphics chip shipments in the second quarter, according to a report from a marketing research firm on Wednesday, adding to Nvidia's woes.

AMD's ATI graphics unit took 51 percent of the standalone, or "discrete," graphics chip market compared to Nvidia's share that was just shy of 49 percent, according to Mercury Research, a Cave Creek, Arizona firm that tracks graphics chip shipments. This is a sharp reversal from the same period a year ago when Nvidia had about 59 percent of the market and AMD had just under 41 … Read more

The new muscle inside the new iMac, Mac Pro

Apple is tapping Intel chips for its desktop lineup in a way it never has before.

Unveiled Tuesday, updated the iMacs have, for the first time, adopted Intel's Core i3 processor, with some distinct differences between the i3, i5, and i7 models, while the refreshed the Mac Pros tap Intel's most advanced six-core processor, also a first.

So, what should consumers zero in on inside the box? Here's a quick rundown.

Core i3/Core i5 Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading--most have both, but a of couple processors don't: Apple has gone with Core i3 processors for the first time. The Core i3, as the number suffix indicates, is Intel's low-end core i series desktop processor. In addition to the most salient differences--clock (gigahertz) speed and processor core counts--the biggest variation among the various Core i3 and Core i5 models is that a couple of the iMacs don't have both Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading. The size of the cache memory is also a distinction.

A primer, first.

Hyper-Threading: This can double the number of tasks--or threads--a processor can execute. So, a two-core processor can handle four threads. This technology is not offered on prior-generation Core 2 chips. Apple describes it as follows: "When you're running multiple applications at once,… Read more

Intel Core i3, i5 laptops make inroads at retailers

Laptops based on the new mobile Intel Core i3 and i5 processors from Dell and Acer continue to roll into retailers like Best Buy at sub-$700 prices. But don't expect Apple to offer deals like this on its upcoming MacBook Pro.

The mobile i5 and i3 offer a significant step up in performance. Tech Web site AnandTech said the i5 processor delivers "the single largest performance improvement we've seen from a new mobile processor in years."

And retailers have been quick to haul out systems based on the freshly-minted chips. This week, Best Buy is … Read more

AMD unveils 'world's fastest' graphics card

Advanced Micro Devices is laying claim to the world's fastest graphics card at it continues an assault on Nvidia at the high-end of the graphics chip market.

As teased last week by AMD senior vice president Rick Bergman at a financial analyst meeting, the "Hemlock" graphics card--now officially called the ATI Radeon HD 5970--is AMD's top-of-the-line graphics product.

"It's in production. You'll be able to buy it at e-tailers around the world...Five Teraflops out of this baby," Bergman said last week. A teraflop is a trillion floating point operations per second, … Read more

AMD spinoff lands top chip company as customer

Globalfoundries, the manufacturing concern spun off from Advanced Micro Devices, plans to announce Wednesday that it has signed up STMicroelectronics--its first true outside customer.

Globalfoundries was created last year in order to eliminate the crippling overhead that AMD was incurring to manufacture its processors. Globalfoundries now conducts business as a contract chip manufacturer, commonly referred to as a foundry.

AMD owns 34.2 percent of the company, while Advanced Technology Investment Co. owns the rest. ATIC is an investment company wholly owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, which is part of the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, Globalfoundries broke … Read more

Micron enters graphics memory business

Micron Technology is entering the graphics memory business, going up against heavyweights Samsung and Hynix.

Micron, which recently vaulted to the No. 3 spot in global sales of dynamic random-access memory (DRAM), is now aiming at the market for DRAM chips used with graphics processors from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices' ATI graphics unit.

The market for DRAM used with graphics processors is about 4 percent of the bits shipped into the DRAM market, according to Micron. DRAM is typically used as the main memory in PCs. This type of DRAM is also referred to as Synchronous DRAM, or SDRAM.… Read more

ATI gets graphics ready for Windows 7

ATI graphics drivers will now be delivered in one tidy package for both Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Advanced Micro Devices said Wednesday that it has released Catalyst 9.3, a set of new graphics drivers that constitute a "unified" driver installation package, with support for both Windows Vista and Windows 7.

One of the biggest changes for Windows 7 is support for the Windows Display Driver Model 1.1, an update from WDDM 1.0 used in Vista, according to Andrew Dodd, a software product manager at ATI. "(Catalyst 9.3) is one single binary and … Read more

Goodbye to traditional Intel graphics?

A new report says the longstanding integrated graphics chip market will disappear--a market that Intel currently dominates.

In a report entitled "Integrated graphics chip market to disappear by 2012," Tiburon, Calif.-based Jon Peddie Research forecasts the end of the market for "the popular integrated graphics processor chipset...after 15 years of stellar growth."

Many low-end and mainstream consumer and business laptops sold over the last five years use Intel graphics built into the chipset, a low-performance but cheaper alternative to discrete graphics chips from Nvidia and ATI. That's made Intel, ironically enough, the market … Read more