Intel: Use our CPU (not their GPU) for games

The chipmaker will attempt to promote its processors for sophisticated game effects at the upcoming Game Developers Conference in March.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

Intel is back, pitching its processors for gaming graphics.

The chipmaker will attempt to promote its silicon for sophisticated game effects at the upcoming Game Developers Conference in March, as it strives to make a case for quad-core processors in lieu of graphics chips from Nvidia and Advanced Micro Devices.

The pitch goes like this: "Learn how to easily add real-time 3D smoke, fog and other fluid simulations to your game without using up the GPU." That's according to an Intel Web page entitled Intel at Game Developers Conference. (The CPU is the central processing unit, or main brains of a computer; GPU stands for graphics processing unit.)

The session abstract goes on to say that the "source code to a fluid simulator optimized for multi-core CPUs...can easily be integrated by game developers into their engines to produce unique 3D effects."

Intel's argument raises the question, how should the CPU and GPU divvy up their tasks? In games, the CPU can handle things like physics and AI (artificial intelligence), and certain older games actually run some graphics on the CPU. Generally, however, the GPU is much more efficient (that is, faster) at handling most of the high-end effects that the gamer sees on the screen.

But there are exceptions. "Not all algorithms and processes map well to a GPU," said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research. "You have to have a problem that is naturally parallel, and except for the rendering of, say, a water surface and subsurface and reflections, the wave motion equations will run just fine on a CPU," Peddie said.

Intel may also be seeking ways to make better use of its quad-core processors, according to Tom R. Halfhill, an analyst at the Microprocessor Report. But, he added: "I need to be convinced that a CPU can do those 3D effects better than a GPU can."

Then, there's also the Larrabee factor. Larrabee is an upcoming high-end graphics processor due late this year. "I'm sure some of it may also relate to Larrabee, which will include x86 cores, if or when it comes to market," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at In-Stat.

(This Mythbusters demonstration at an Nvidia conference is oversimplified and self-serving but it crystallizes the difference between CPUs and GPUs.)

In another GDC session, Intel is also pushing the CPU for physics and AI: "How can your game have more accurate physics, smarter AI, more particles, and/or a faster frame-rate? By threading your game's engine to take advantage of multi-core processors. Intel has built a threaded game engine and demo called 'Smoke' that shows one way of achieving this goal," the abstract states.

It continues: "This presentation examines the Smoke architecture and how it is designed to take advantage of all CPU cores available within a system. It does this by executing different functional and data blocks in parallel to utilize all available cores."

Intel won't stop there. It will also focus on the bane of many PC game developers: gaming on Intel integrated graphics silicon--a relatively low-performance platform that prohibits game titles from being displayed in all their glory at higher resolutions. The session will focus on "programming for scalable graphics applications" and cover "performance considerations when programming for integrated graphics in general with specific tips for Intel Integrated graphics."