May 17, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Intel's chipset road map lacks a driver

(continued from previous page)

New drivers also were needed to light up the advanced hardware. Those weren't ready in September, when the integrated graphics version of the 965 finally shipped after a two-month delay. They remained unavailable for last week's launch of the newest Centrino Duo technology with a mobile version of the 965, and they aren't expected to arrive until August, Newman said.

What has taken Intel so long? For one thing, Intel says the ever-changing requirements for Windows Vista drivers forced it to pull resources away from the project to make sure it had stable drivers for all of its chipsets.

"We had to do many, many iterations of engineering work to get a functioning driver for Vista," said Mike Joy, graphics software product marketing engineer for Intel's mobile platforms group. Intel wasn't alone in having problems creating graphics drivers for Vista; Nvidia also suffered several delays getting its own drivers ready.

Intel also says that PC companies, when informed of the time crunch, wanted Intel to focus on improving the video processing quality of the 965 chipset over 3D technology like vertex processing. "We put our focus first on video, but now we're refocused on getting our vertex processing capabilities delivered," Newman said.

However, at the recent Centrino Duo launch event in San Francisco, Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile platform division, said the delay was related to a problem with the interaction between the driver and the hardware, not external forces. "There was a bug, and we're fixing it," he said, declining to specify the exact nature of the problem.

Peddie thinks Intel was biting off more than it could chew when it decided to beef up its integrated graphics hardware. Discrete graphics cards use dedicated memory right next to the graphics processing unit, which means that the GPU doesn't have to reach over to the main system memory when it's looking for instructions. But that's expensive: graphics cards range anywhere from around $200 up to $800.

"It all comes down to a choke point, and that choke point is system memory access."
--Jon Peddie,
owner of research firm Jon Peddie Associates

With the 965, Intel's integrated graphics tried to be more like a GPU with hardware dedicated for specific graphics functions, but Intel couldn't put memory on the chipset to support those capabilities because of cost pressures. So, the graphics have to share a bridge to memory with the CPU, which requires some fancy footwork on the part of the system architect to help the chipset decide which part--the graphics chips or the CPU--gets to use the lanes of the bridge at a given time, Peddie said.

"It all comes down to a choke point, and that choke point is system memory access," Peddie said.

Intel denied that the trouble related to the driver delays had anything to do with the complexity of its system architecture. "I don't think our CPU chipset architecture is limited in terms of what it can deliver in memory bandwidth," Newman said.

However, memory bandwidth concerns played a central role in Intel's struggles before the arrival of the Core 2 Duo. Intel plans to change its chipset architecture in 2008 with its Nehalem generation of processors. Some of those chips will use design philosophies popularized by AMD's Opteron design, such as integrated memory controllers and point-to-point links between processor cores.

Integrating the memory controller improves memory bandwidth because it allows the controller to run at the speed of the main processor, shuttling information back and forth between memory much faster than a front-side bus--which lives outside the CPU--is capable of doing.

Intel's graphics problems haven't caused a huge ripple in the industry, mainly because influential buyers who care the most about graphics performance never planned to buy a system with the integrated graphics version of the 965 chipset. But they do underscore the fact that now that Intel has mapped out a solid plan for its processor division, it must turn its attention to graphics.

Apple didn't even bother to include the 965 chipset in the latest revision to its MacBook lineup, staying with the older versions of Intel's integrated graphics technology. Intel appears to have gotten the message in recent months, hiring more and more graphics engineers and announcing plans to increase graphics performance by a larger margin each successive year.

And at least, once the drivers are finally ready, Intel will be able to deliver a significant performance boost with its existing hardware, McCarron said. "Essentially, what this amounts to is a delayed benefit," he said.

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16 comments

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same article on both pages
More fine Cnet reporting/editing.
Posted by mjm01010101 (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fixed
Sorry about that. We are working to resolve a technical glitch regarding multipage stories.
Posted by Zoe Slocum (42 comments )
Link Flag
this is bad
once on board video is upgraded then the motherboards will run hotter & hotter.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Blame MS
Their incompetence in defining drivers and interfaces (unless they
copy from already existing standards and then muck it up).
Posted by weegg (849 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And who really gives a crap?
Anyone that even mildly cares about graphics performance would buy something with a dedicated graphics card. Another excellent non-story.
Posted by sqlman2000 (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Another stupid comment!
"Anyone that even mildly cares about graphics performance would buy something with a dedicated graphics card."

Wrong. Not in laptops. Integrated graphics in laptops use significantly less battery life than do discrete graphic card.
Posted by anarchyreigns (299 comments )
Link Flag
perhaps Intel is to blame for duo page mix up!
give Cnet a break, every body makes mistake. Overall their reporting is excellent. Kudos to CNET for getting things 99.9 percent right!
Posted by xxdd7311 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Blame VISTA
Blame VISTA. If VISTA hadn't been announced just two weeks before it was released INTEL would have been on time - yeah ...
Posted by sal-magnone (162 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Intel's graphics
I am really surprised that Intel has dragged their feet on the driver
to enable all the 3D effects. If it is true that Microsoft and Vista are
to blame, it would appear that Vista might have something to do
with the new cheap not working as promised. I personally have
gave up on computer games and going the game console road.
It seems that a ever growing resource hog like Vista requires such a
fast expensive graphics card to play games. It's cheaper just to go
with a dedicated gaming console.
Posted by jesmac418 (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Vista and Gaming
If your looking at Vista for a gaming platform, that's your problem. XP is still the OS for PC gaming. There is no compelling reason to use Vista for gaming until DX10 games become available, not to mention decent stable video drivers.

A respectable (not top end) gaming PC running XP is only marginally more expensive that a new console and, of course, is not limited to just gaming.
Posted by J_Satch (571 comments )
Link Flag
Team up with Nvidia
I think that Intel should team up with Nvidia in order to produce a killer integrated GPU. Nvidia shouldn't give them the most advance stuff. Just enough to compete with AMD's integrated chips that are going to be released. If they don't then Intel will lose market share to better integrated graphics chips and thus CPU's, like the article said consumers want great looking games and a low price. Who is the one that can deliver...AMD.
Posted by nightspark (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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