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Intel's G35 failure needs a fix


TO SAY INTEL has botched graphics over the past few years is being kind. Now, the G35 is shaping up to fail in all the same ways as its predecessor, the G965. If you remember, the G965 was promised to have features such as T&L in hardware and other shader model levels that it simply did not deliver. They were coming, it was said, just wait for the next revision. That revision was delayed, sometimes to make it compatible with the Broken OS [means Vista here folks!], sometimes to prioritise video, sometimes because the moon wasn't in phase with Venus.

In the end, the G965 has yet to deliver the promises made at launch. That launch was at Computex 2006, June. As of this writing, it is Q2 2008, and the launch features are still not implemented. What a shame. G965 was heralded as the first of a new programmable graphics architecture, flexible, fast and power sipping. Intel didn't add 'works' to the list, and it is badly missed. The first spin, called G965 was supposed to do DX9 with all the Shader Model (SM) goodies in hardware, and as soon as MS got the Broken OS out the door, DX10 would soon follow.

If you are still waiting for the G965 DX10 drivers, well don't. Due to unfixed bugs in the architecture, it is never going to happen, but at least you got your DX9.0x. Newer variants of the 965, specifically the 965GM and it's relatives did have the bugs patched, and will have DX10. Someday. Maybe. We hope. Next driver release. Unless...

A year or so after the G965's release, it was supplanted by the G35, which other than changing the naming scheme, offered a slightly wider and faster GPU core. Ironically, it came out before the G965 had it's drivers in the pseudo-working state they are in. Yes, G965 never worked right for it's entire lifespan, and has only been mostly posthumously patched.

Back to the G35. That part was a second generation of the architecture, fixed bugs, faster and wider. It came out months after the Broken OS, so DX10 should have been there out of the gate, right? Should have been, but wasn't. DX9 with all the SM goodness as well, right? Well, hell no. They just got much of that working a month or so ago. DX10 is promised in the next driver revision - quite soon from what we are told.

There are two problems with this. First, is that they have been promising the next revision panacea for two years, and there are more confirmed checks in the 'will never work, sorry' column than the 'works' column. Call me fatally skeptical here. Second is that the G45, the successor to the G35 will be out in within weeks of the 'working' driver.

Yup, you read that right, the G35 is going to be the second Intel GPU to utterly fail, it has really good odds of being supplanted before it ever works. Will it work? I really think this one will, but I have only been wrong eight or nine times before when thinking that. Intel has the sort of track record that rivals AMD's Barcelona promises, just twice as long.

G45 is set to be released in about a few months, in the same quarter as the 'working' G35 drivers. It is in effect a slightly wider and faster G35, and Intel has promised about 1.7x G35 performance. If you consider that G35 gets about 650 on 3DMark06 with 'well tuned' drivers, that would put G45 at about 1100. If the drivers function.

If you recall, I said that I was indeed hopeful that the G45 would work more or less right out of the box. Why do I make such obviously marginally sane claims? Because the G45 is a direct descendant of the G965, and almost all of the driver work can carry over.

If Intel only started work on the drivers from the day of the chipset's public release, it has had two years to fix things. Likely as it looks, moles deep in the Intel GPU division tell me that this is not the case, they were working on drivers before the G965's release. Gasp.

The same holds true for the upcoming G43 and G41, instead of putting them on an older i945 based cores, the budget chips are actually on the newer programmable G965 cores. So, if the G45 works, so should the 43 and 41. If it doesn't, well, there is the next revision, and Windows 7 is right around the corner in Intel driver years.

In the end, it all comes down to the fact that Intel can't get a driver out the door to save their lives. The GPU cores are pretty OK, they do the job, they aren't Nvidia level laughable on power, and as long as you don't look at 3D, they are mostly functional.

Intel was partially hobbled by an architecture that didn't work out; programmable is fine if you have enough horsepower to to the job. But sources tell me the major problem with the early iterations of the architecture was that there was simply not enough horsepower. This bodes well for the G45 working, but casts a long shadow over G43 and G41.

Scrambling to make up for it with driver tweaks was a losing game, so things never worked. Distracting people from making the promised release functions to add Broken OS support and video tweaks was simply stupid. If you are thinking gross management failure along with technical failures, you may be right there too.

So, short story, G965x never worked before it was supplanted. If G35 works before it is supplanted, it will be by weeks. G45 has a shot, but we have heard that before. What a mess.

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