Sandy Bridge is the first GPU tightly integrated with an x86, using a shared
L3 cache to communicate. Graphics performance has doubled, thanks to new
shader cores and more powerful fixed functions. Sadly though, there is no
OpenCL or DirectX11 support till Ivy Bridge in 2012. The multimedia support
is superb and power efficient, with full hardware decoding and accelerated
encoding exposed through an API. Much work remains for future generations,
such as the 22nm Ivy Bridge, but this is a huge advance for Intel and one
that has been recognized by key customers such as Apple.
This report is the first deep dive published on Intel's Sandy Bridge
graphics architecture. We delve into the GPU, starting with the software
model, system architecture and covering the fully programmable shader cores,
fixed function hardware and texturing and render output pipelines. Our
detailed look is complete with comparisons to the previous generation and
competing GPUs from AMD.