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DreamWorks executive on why it switched from AMD to Intel

DreamWorks specifically cites Intel's upcoming Nehalem processor and Larrabee graphics chip as reasons to dump AMD chips.

Intel has upstaged Advanced Micro Devices at DreamWorks Animation. The movie studio has decided to drop AMD and go with processors from Intel, citing better performance and a more promising roadmap.

DreamWorks specifically mentioned Intel's upcoming Nehalem processor and Larrabee graphics chip as reasons for the switch.

Intel and DreamWorks announced Tuesday that they had formed a strategic alliance for 3D filmmaking technology. DreamWorks plans to produce all its feature films in stereoscopic 3D--which requires the viewer to wear special glasses for enhanced 3D--beginning next year. Intel will provide DreamWorks with "the latest high-performance processing technologies, including future chips with multiple processing cores," the companies said.

This is a setback for AMD. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chipmaker rolled out its quad-core Barcelona last year at George Lucas' Lucasfilm campus in San Francisco to make a point: Barcelona would be big player in the movie industry. But a series of delays related to a processor bug put a damper on the high expectations for Barcelona.

"AMD maintained a long and fruitful relationship with DreamWorks Animation, beginning in early 2005. Earlier this year, AMD and DreamWorks decided not to extend our marketing and technology relationship. However, DreamWorks Animation is still an important and respected AMD customer and we look forward to having the opportunity to work with them again in the future," AMD said in a statement.

Essentially, DreamWorks looked down the road and liked what it saw coming from Intel better. "When we look at the Intel roadmap, it is more closely aligned with our needs," John Batter, president of production at DreamWorks Animations, said during a conversation with Nanotech: The Circuits blog. "The rendering times have been going up because of the complexity and richness of the images. Then you layer on top of that 3D. Something that's already growing--and doubling it."

Intel had the best technology, Batter said. "You need a lot more horsepower. On Intel's upcoming generation, the number of cores is going to help us satiate the big spike in our needs."

DreamWorks had been in a three-year partnership with AMD, Batter said.

He explained that Intel is also helping DreamWorks to redesign its animation tools. "Our animation tools are all proprietary here. Intel is rearchitecting our software tools...to take advantage of multicore and make our renderer highly scalable as well as making our character animation tools highly scalable."

DreamWorks uses rendering farms with as many as 5,000 cores to create animation and its tools need to be adapted to the increasing number of processor cores, Batter said. The Nehalem chip, for example, is expected to integrate as many as eight cores. Currently, Intel offers no more than four cores per chip. Larrabee is expected by many to offer as many as 32 cores.

Intel Nehalem architecture
Intel Nehalem architecture Intel

Batter specifically mentioned both Nehalem and Larrabee as a reason for the switch to Intel. He said that Larrabee would be "complementary" to Intel's general-purpose CPUs.

Nehalem is due in the fourth quarter of this year and Larrabee is expected in the 2009-2010 time frame.

The first Intel-Dreamworks release will be Monsters vs. Aliens, which is slated to hit movie theaters in March 2009.