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Intel to ship Larrabee graphics chip in early 2010

Intel Corp.'s Larrabee graphics processor, which is expected to challenge Nvidia Corp. and ATI Corp. in the high-performance desktop and gaming PC market, will arrive early next year, the chip maker's CEO said during a quarterly earnings call on Tuesday.

Larrabee will go into “volume introduction … early next year,” said Intel CEO Paul Otellini during Intel's discussion of second-quarter results with Wall Street analysts.

Intel is “debugging” the silicon chip itself, Otellini said. “The silicon will get ready, or get better, over the course of the year. The software gets finished over the course of the year.”

Jon Peddie of Jon Peddie Research said that schedule was “totally in keeping with all the forecasts, winks, leaks, and other comments.”

Intel already dominates the market for integrated graphics, which are graphics chips that come attached with a CPU. They're popular in laptop PCs and in business desktops where 3-D graphics or high-resolution video is not needed.

The highly-anticipated Larrabee graphics processing unit (GPU) will be the first Intel has created for add-on graphics cards that users buy separately and plug into the slots of their desktop computers.

Though the market for add-on cards is small and expected to continue to shrink, it is a profitable segment, with top-end graphics cards selling for hundreds of dollars. Intel's entry is also symbolically important because it opens up a new front on rival Nvidia's home turf.

Intel has been coy about how many processor cores Larrabee will have. Nvidia and ATI's most powerful GPUs have hundreds of cores. Larrabee is unlikely to have as many, since it is based on the more powerful x86 processor, the same that is used in CPUs.

Otellini shed only a little more light Tuesday, saying that Larrabee would come in multiple versions, with less-expensive versions having fewer cores.

Peddie said he expected Intel to match ATI and Nvidia's lineup and roll out four versions of Larrabee, in 8-, 16-, 32-, and 64-core versions.

Otellini denied that Larrabee chips have been turning out bulkier than expected. Bulky chips tend to require more electricity for cooling and can't perform as fast. That could put off the third-party graphics card makers that would be the market for Larrabee.

Larrabee GPUs that have been publicly shown so far are “high-end … extreme versions, I'll put it that way,” Otellini said.

Otellini did not say when he expected graphic cards with Larrabee would begin shipping.

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