When Advanced Micro Devices created its own stand-alone graphics division, Radeon Technologies Group, and crafted a new brand, Polaris, for its upcoming graphics architecture, it was an admission of sorts. AMD championed the combination of processors and graphics into a single chip, dubbed the accelerated processing unit (APU). But the pendulum swung a little too far in that direction, away from stand-alone graphics. And now it's Raja Koduri's job to compensate for that.
I interviewed Koduri at the 2016 International CES, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas last week. He acknowledged that AMD intends to put graphics back in the center. And he said that 2016 will be a very big year for the company as it introduces its advanced FinFET manufacturing technology, which will result in much better performance per watt — or graphics that won't melt your computer. Koduri believes this technology will help AMD beat rivals such as Nvidia. AMD's new graphics chips will hit during the middle of 2016, Koduri said.
Beyond 2016, Koduri believes that graphics is going to get more and more amazing. Virtual reality is debuting, but we won't be completely satisfied with the imagery until we get 3D graphics that can support 16K screens, or at least 16 times more pixels on a screen that[sic] we have available on most TVs today. Koduri wants to pump those pixels at you at a rate of 240 hertz, or changing the pixels at a rate of 240 times per second. Only then will you really experience true immersion that you won't be able to tell apart from the real world. He calls it "mirror-like" graphics. That's pretty far out thinking.
AMD's "Polaris" GPUs will be released sometime during the summer of 2016. Along with AMD's "Zen" CPUs and APUs, Polaris GPUs will be built using a 14nm FinFET process, skipping the 20nm node.
AMD has launched its 300 series GPUs. The new GPUs are considered "refreshes" of the "Hawaii" architecture, although there are some improvements. For example, the Radeon R7 360 has 2 GB of VRAM instead of the 1 GB of the Radeon R7 260, as well as a slightly higher memory clock. Radeon R9 390X and Radeon R9 390 boost clock speeds and double VRAM to 8 GB compared to the 4 GB of the 290X and 290, but will launch at a higher price than the older GPUs currently sell for. Is the VRAM boost worth it?
While one could write a small tome on the matter of memory capacity, especially in light of the fact that the Fury series only has 4GB of memory, ultimately the fact that the 390 series has 8GB now is due to a couple of factors. The first of which is the fact that 4GB Hawaii cards require 2Gb GDDR5 chips (2x16), a capacity that is slowly going away in favor of the 4Gb chips used on the Playstation 4 and many of the 2015 video cards. The other reason is that it allows AMD to exploit NVIDIA's traditional stinginess with VRAM; just as with the 290 series versus the GTX 780/770, this means AMD once again has a memory capacity advantage, which helps to shore up the value of their cards versus what NVIDIA offers at the same price.
Meanwhile with the above in mind, based on comments from AMD product managers, it sounds like the use of 4Gb chips also plays a part in the [20%] memory clockspeed increases we're seeing on the 390 series. Later generation chips don't just get bigger, but they get faster and operate at lower voltages as well, and from what we've seen it looks like AMD is taking advantage of all of these factors.
More interesting will be the Radeon R9 Fury X and Radeon R9 Fury, which use the new "Fiji" architecture. These will be AMD's first GPUs to ship with 4 GB of High Bandwidth Memory (HBM). Fury X is a water-cooled card that will launch June 24th for $649. Fury is an air-cooled version with less stream processors and texture units (lower yields) than the Fury X. It will launch on July 14th at $549. AMD claims that the new Fiji GPUs have 1.5 times the performance per watt of the R9 290X, partially due to the decrease in power needed by stacks of HBM vs. GDDR5 memory.
Later this summer, AMD will launch a 6" Fiji card with HBM called "Nano". AMD will launch a "Dual" card sometime in the fall, presumably the equivalent of two Fury X GPUs.
Remember when we reported on the Radeon Technologies Group boss, Raja Koduri, taking a leave of absence with an intent to return to the fold in December? That isn't going to happen, according to a memo Raja has written to his team, because today is his last day in the job.
[...] Our sources tell us that Lisa Su, AMD CEO, will continue to oversee RTG for the foreseeable future. AMD appreciates that such an important role cannot be the sole domain of the CEO, and to this end is actively searching for a successor to Raja. We expect the appointment to be made within a few months.
The rumor mill suggests that Koduri will take a job at Intel, which would come at an interesting time now that Intel is including AMD graphics and High Bandwidth Memory in some of its products.