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Is Intel Corporation Taking Graphics More Seriously Now?

By Ashraf Eassa - Mar 13, 2017 at 3:30PM

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Two interesting hires from graphics leaders could point to a renewed focus on graphics technology on Chipzilla's part.

In 2011, Intel (INTC 3.21%) released a processor family known as Sandy Bridge. Sandy Bridge was a very well-received product family as it brought solid improvements in performance, power consumption, and -- perhaps most importantly -- integration.

Indeed, with Sandy Bridge, Intel integrated a decent graphics processor right onto the same piece of silicon as the main processor and other components themselves. This allowed computer makers to, at least for systems not aimed at high-performance gaming/graphics applications, forgo including costly stand-alone graphics processors.

Intel's Kaby Lake processor with Iris Plus graphics

Image source: Intel.

Over the years, Intel has steadily improved the graphics and media capabilities of its graphics processors in service of the increasing graphical/multimedia demands of modern computers. Computers ship with ever-higher resolution displays (which require more robust display capabilities from the chip), video is becoming richer (driving the need for increased video decoding/encoding capabilities), and gaming is growing (requiring increasingly capable 3D graphics engines).

However, the honest-to-goodness truth is that while Intel's graphics technology has improved over the years, it's still by no means great. And as gaming becomes more popular, and should emerging use cases like virtual reality and augmented reality take off, Intel is going to want to build leadership graphics technology.

As I poked around LinkedIn, I saw that Intel made some significant graphics-related hires that may indicate that the company aims to accelerate its efforts vis-a-vis graphics.

Grabbing talent from the best

Today, graphics specialist NVIDIA (NVDA 5.55%) is considered the premier high-performance graphics processor vendor -- its graphics processors are generally believed to be the highest-performance and most power-efficient designs in the market.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of gaming-oriented notebook computers include stand-alone NVIDIA graphics processors for that very reason.

Additionally, Qualcomm (QCOM 4.17%) is viewed as having one of the best low-power/mobile graphics development organizations in the world. The Adreno graphics processors inside Qualcomm's are both very efficient and among the highest-performing in the mobile industry.

With that context in mind, here's what I found.

Back in October 2015, Intel hired Sanjay Gongalore from NVIDIA. At NVIDIA, Gongalore served as director of GPU ASIC Engineering, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was with NVIDIA since May 2004 and apparently worked on the Maxwell architecture graphics processors (which offered very impressive performance/power) as well as what he referred to as a "next-generation GPU family" (presumably the company's Pascal architecture, which launched in May 2016).

NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics card

Image source: NVIDIA.

At Intel, he's now director of product architecture within the company's Visual and Parallel Computing Group (VPG). Considering the runaway successes of those the two most recent product families that he worked on at NVIDIA, this is certainly a good hire for Intel.

Next up, back in November 2015, Intel snapped up Dave Astle, a principal engineer with Qualcomm who worked on GPU tools, developer engagement, and as part of the company's GPU architecture team.

At Intel, Astle serves as a game developer relations engineering manager where he, per his LinkedIn profile, "manage[s] a team of engineers enabling the future of games, as well as managing the virtual reality program for the Developer Relations Division."

What this tells me is this: Intel is at least trying to take gaming, virtual reality, and other use cases that require significant graphics performance seriously and is hiring proven industry veterans to try to boost efforts here.

It'll be interesting to watch and see how Intel's graphics technology evolves over time and whether the company can build best-in-class graphics architectures as NVIDIA and Qualcomm do for their respective market segments or if it will fall short of that goal.

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Intel Corporation Stock Quote
Intel Corporation
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QUALCOMM Incorporated Stock Quote
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