Larrabee and rasterization

This is a story that has needled me for a while, but never to the point of writing about it. Until today, when I read a blog entry by Tom Forsyth about how Intel’s Larrabee will actually be able to do rasterization and not just real-time raytracing:

I’ve been trying to keep quiet, but I need to get one thing very clear. Larrabee is going to render DirectX and OpenGL games through rasterisation, not through ray-tracing.

I’m not sure how the message got so muddled.

Yeah, gee, I wonder why. Maybe because Intel has been pushing real-time ray-tracing so hard? Take a look at this fair and balanced article called “Rendering Games with Raytracing Will Revolutionize Graphics”. It wasn’t written by anyone from Intel, but it describes Intel’s efforts in that area – note the picture of an Intel poster saying ‘Ray-tracing: The future for games!’.

Ray-tracing for games doesn’t make any sense to me. The visual advantages of ray-tracing over rasterization are tiny and not worth switching to a completely new rendering approach for. Ray-tracing always evokes mirrored balls on infinite chessboards to me, and hey look! Intel’s latest screenshots contain mirrored balls! You need to grab people by the neck and point them at the stuff ray-tracing is better at than rasterization. And I am not the only one who is skeptical: so are John Carmack and Crytek. They should know (more than me, I haven’t done graphics programming in ages), and their opinion counts.

What Intel is trying to do with Larrabee seems awfully transparent. NVidia is moving into general purpose processing with CUDA, so Intel is moving into graphics processing with x86 cores. Let’s not pretend this is automatically good for developers or for gamers. I listened to Intel’s hype about MMX in 1995, and MMX turned out to be completely useless for games. They’re not fooling me twice. I’d be even more skeptical except Kim Pallister is working on Larrabee, and I have a lot of respect for him. Still… Larrabee makes me sneer. I couldn’t care less about it.

Am I wrong? Is Larrabee or real-time ray-tracing the wave of the future? Tell me in the comments. Don’t tell me Tom Forsyth is not responsible for Intel’s PR, I know that. He’s a good guy.

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