Creating a cool piece of hardware is really just one of many steps needed to create a great user experience. Almost everything made out of silicon has microcode, drivers and program code loaded onto it from every angle – to try and make it as good as it can be.
KitGuru recently managed to corner Josh Newman, from Intel’s Developer Relations team, to find out just what’s going on with the chip giant’s software programmes.
Intel is big. No surprise there. Although it feels as though they have been here forever, the inventor of X86 architecture was started by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce as recently as 1968.
Globally, Intel is the 48th most powerful brand and – every day – the company’s products influence the lives of billions of people.
Truly a computing continuum if ever we saw one.
During our conversation with Josh, he told us that Intel was working on APIs that have yet to be defined for the graphics environment of the future, that more and more games are being created with Intel’s GPU technologies as their primary focus and that – in general – Intel’s DevRel team is ready for anything.
Let’s get down to the specifics – the meat on the bones.
In our recent interview with Nic Thibieroz, a lot was made of the way that OpenCL is becoming more and more important. We asked Josh for his views on how this standard will impact the future of graphics and gaming.
“Well it depends on the application”, said Josh. “Intel is helping to shape the API standard because it will be important to provide a robust option for developers whose business models require that they program to open standard interfaces to get as much out of the underlying hardware platform as possible”.
“There are many other options for developers to optimise on Intel hardware”, he explained, “but for those that choose OpenCL, Intel will provide the necessary features and tools as the standard matures”.
So it’s 100% support from Intel on the open platforms side of things.
Had the initial Larrabee programme nailed the needs of the market, more emphasis might have been placed on DirectX, but now we get the feeling that Intel is playing a ‘longer game’. We asked Josh about his feeling about DirectX, whether the development of the API was moving at the right speed, and whether he saw it being replaced by a world of pure X86 instructions in the future.
“For 3D Games, DirectX is a very important API and Intel’s processor graphics offerings will continue to be developed with DirectX implementations in mind – as well as OpenGL and emerging standards like OpenCL, and probably other APIs defined in the future”, said Josh.
We like the last part. KitGuru has long believed that Intel’s best path to gaming graphics success lies in the ownership of a platform. While the Wii ‘2’ and Xbox ‘720’ seem destined to be AMD’s, there is a strong feeling in the industry that Sony was not 100% happy with the IBM + nVidia combination. With the PlayStation 3, Sony seemed to overestimate the power of a Blu-Ray drive while underestimating the power of Microsoft’s price advantage and the difficulty of creating a complete new programming eco-sphere. Maybe, this time around, there will a strong feeling of ‘make it easier, please’ from the Sony product teams. Intel’s X86 is certainly easy and there is a massive pool of development talent to draw upon.
“Intel will continually assess what the best solutions are for SW developers to bring value and new innovation to PC users, and build that into our future product plans.” Josh added.
Would be nice if those developers were creating X86-based graphics games for a PS/4 wethinks.
We figured that Larrabee might be a delicate subject for conversation, but we wanted to know if Intel had taken anything onboard from the experience. While the initial move to create Larrabee cards didn’t go as Intel planned, presumably an enormous amount was learnt from the project. KitGuru is hearing that Intel is moving forward with advanced graphics, when might that technology begin to surface?
“Last year when Intel announced its graphics roadmap changes, we said we were shifting resources and focus in processor graphics, to deliver on key consumer visual experiences all built-in to our processors”, said Josh.
“The launch of 2nd Generation Intel Core processors with built-in visuals [formerly code-named Sandy Bridge – Ed] delivered on this through stunning new capabilities like Intel Quick Sync Video, Intel Insider and Intel WiDi all of which deliver wonderful new consumer experiences”, said Josh. “We have a roadmap to continue to innovate and enhance consumer visual experiences, but Intel is not yet commenting on specific features and timelines beyond the 2nd Generation Intel Core processors”.
Intel Insider seems to be Intel’s way of identifying who you are, so that Hollywood media owners trust your PC enough to stream you content. According to Josh, it is not DRM and we should not be worried. More on that another day then.
Right now, KitGuru is hearing that this will mean the introduction of 50% more execution units in Ivy Bridge for 2012 – alongside the addition of DX11 functionality.
When Josh says “consumer experiences”, we can’t stop thinking about consoles – so we decided to chance our luck and ask him point blank.
Given that the console market is thriving right now – with sales of both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 games still showing strong sales – how important is it for Intel to become involved in console gaming?
“Intel 2nd Generation Core processors with Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 2000 deliver an excellent PC gaming experience for subscription/on-line games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends “, said Josh. “We see this as a key new gaming sector and are engaging with many Game ISVs developing for this fast growing category of games such that they are optimizing their new titles with Intel HD Graphics as a the design point. We will always explore new opportunities to expand form factors and usages, but do not comment on announced plans or products.”
The interesting thing here, for KitGuru, was the way Josh explained how much effort and resource Intel is putting into games that are primarily console or online based, without actually stating that Intel has a platform coming which will focus on playing those games in the living room. Bear in mind that we’re talking about a company that has acquired an OS and various other software products in the last couple of years – while kicking off multiple programmes to penetrate the living room.
It was almost 12 years’ ago that Intel Executives were signing off on white papers relating to this kind of product. We seem to remember a line that said Intel was committed to delivering, “Gaming, browsing, video on demand, pay per view, telephony and a full range of streaming options”. And that was in 2004.
For a long time, Intel was not associated with ‘lite’ computing at all. The ATOM range was released and the world changed – but that was almost 4 years ago. Intelligent people would assume that Intel has been busy in the meantime.
With the explosion of graphics in the mobile space, how long before Intel might begin to take a leadership position in the smartphone/tablet graphics market?
Josh pondered the answer “As previously disclosed, Intel is accelerating its Intel Atom roadmap from 45nm today to 22nm by 2013 – arguably faster than Moore’s Law”, said Josh. “This will enable Intel to hit industry-leading levels in power and performance in rapid succession, and help us to further integrate greater and greater functionality and capabilities – including graphics – onto the silicon.”
So the way we are reading that answer is that Intel will have the best phone silicon in the market, within 18 months – and mobile gaming/video will be a key point of penetration for Intel.
Just before we let Josh go, KitGuru wanted to ask one last question about game development. Specifically if he feels that the API is moving quickly enough.
“Intel will continually assess what the best solutions are for SW developers to bring value and new innovation to PC users, and build that into our future product plans”.
So, could be DirectX. Could be something else. We wonder if Microsoft is feeling any pressure at this stage to reconsider its decision to release the minor DX11.1 bump with Windows 8 in 2012?
KitGuru says: It’s great that Intel’s DevRel team took time off to speak with us. No matter how much focus has been given to nVidia and ATI in the past, there’s no doubt that Intel will be playing a bigger and bigger role in the future influence of games and, therefore, gamers.
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