Sandy Bridge opens the door for mainstream parallel software

The release of the new second-generation Intel Core processor family is bit of a landmark moment for developers. These processors, the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, are developed on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture

This microarchitecture is smart in the sense that it combines visual and 3D graphics technology on a single chip. The Core i5 and Core i7 processors have four cores and eight threads while the Core i3 has two cores and four threads.

When releasing these second-generation Core processors, Intel said the new graphics technology is aimed at areas where most people are computing today, that is: high-definition video (HD), photos, mainstream gaming, multitasking, online socialising and multimedia.

Enhanced visual technologies such as next-generation Intel HD graphics are built into these chips. In real terms this means that your average computer user and gamer is going to get superior graphics quality on their laptops and PCs.  That is, they don’t need to plug in discrete graphics cards to get better quality graphics.

As such, the processors set a new benchmark for computer graphics which is good news for developers. And as quad-core processors, the Core i5 and Core i7 are going mainstream which is also good news for developers.

By bringing these two elements together, enhanced graphics and multicore processors, developers are going to be able develop parallel software for a widespread and mainstream market, and also, in a sense set a new benchmark for software standards.

Sandy Bridge is a fundamentally new microarchitecture for Intel which blends the microarchitectures of the Pentium Pro and the Pentium 4 with a new implementation of the GenX graphics architecture (PDF). The result is a tightly integrated chip with a novel system infrastructure.

Real World Tech provides an extremely detailed analysis of Sandy Bridge, pointing out among other things how it changes the underlying out-of-order engine and uses a more efficient approach to track, reorder, rename and dynamically schedule operations to achieve the limit of data flow. 

Real World Tech also mentions Sandy Bridge’s micro operation cache is also a huge improvement for the front-end, by largely eliminating many of the vagaries of x86 fetch and decode.  AVX improves execution throughput and most importantly, the more flexible memory pipelines benefit almost all workloads.

The Intel HD graphics also supports Intel Clear Video Technology and DirectX Video Acceleration (DXVA) for accelerated video processing, a clear benefit for games developers looking to produce high-quality video in their games or even introduce ground-breaking video features into games.

During a presentation of these new processors in India, Siva Kumar of Intel mentioned an interesting fact. He said by 2013, 90% of all Web traffic would be video based. This statement may be speculative but it’s a point worth keeping in mind as software development gets underway.

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