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There Is No Sea Islands
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: February 15th, 2013
There Is No Sea Islands
There is no Sea Islands
Recent AMD hire Roy Taylor, Vice President of Global Channel Sales, has asked AMD to break the yearly update cadence they began with Evergreen, under the Sea Islands series of products. His reasoning? AMD has the best graphics products but people don't think so.
In a recent AMD Press Briefing, AMD gathered their team to address the recent controversy stirred by their own information release - that the AMD Radeon series will by 'stable throughout 2013'. What they meant by that was actually 'a top to bottom stack of new products in Q4'. Nice to have some clarity. So, is this Sea Islands? Nope, Sea Island is the codename for the codenames that make up the products of 2013. Yeah. AMD know we love codenames, so ...
As previously reported, the new AMD Radeon HD 8000M series is codenamed Solar System. Thus far, the Mars GPU has launched - back in November 2012, in fact - and availability is ramping. This GPU doesn't feature a new architecture; AMD is sticking with GCN for the foreseeable future. Given how long VLIW5 lasted after being introduced in 2006's R600, that's historically consistent and we expect that previously seen tweaks and improvements will be reflected in future cards. Mars is a new configuration of GCN cores and design and more new 8000M series products will be released this year, with new configurations of GCN. HSA feature upgrades will be driven in the APU products.
At CES, AMD announced the AMD Radeon HD 8000 OEM series, which are exactly the same as the current desktop HD 7000 series. This was done to placate the OEM customers who love new numbers every year, and they get a new card the retail channel didn't, based on the Oland GPU. The desktop side didn't get this treatment; in fact AMD will be launching multiple new Radeon 7000 series cards before the end of 1H13. This is not limited to Oland, as one of AMD's repeated points was that they will sustain the price/performance leadership they currently own now, throughout 2013. This kinda hints at an official AMD product in the retail channel using the New Zealand design, although AMD claim Powercolor's Devil 13 and ASUS ARES II as their own, as AMD countered discussion of NVIDIA's upcoming titanic single GPU card.
Sea Islands is now the codename for the graphics updates happening in 2013, so this encompasses Solar System mobility GPUs and the OEM rebranding of the desktop 7000 series to being 8000 series. It also includes new HD 7000 desktop GPUs, some of which may be new chips - but not new architecture - and others that are the result of binning, power management (i.e. turbo) and clock speed increases. Charlie Demerjian at SemiAcurrate published details back in January of the AMD Radeon HD 8950, details of which he reiterated in the call; it's a clock speed bump with better thermals but still a Tahiti Pro and the card is production ready, has been for a while. So why isn't it launching in March of this year like we originally heard rumored? This goes back to Roy Taylor's comment; he asked them not to do so until AMD's cards are recognized as the best in the business. The timing here doesn't really line up - it looks more like Project WIN forced a re-examination of priorities and an adjustment to what codenames mean, and what products are branded. With NVIDIA's 7-series GeForce cards likely following the pattern set with Fermi, the GK114 GTX 780 expected to launch in March, the performance delta that AMD has to overcome is around 30% above the 680. Is that something a 15% faster Tahiti XT 2 can beat?
ATI vs NVIDIA
A big statement in the briefing was that AMD wants to bring back the rivalry, the 'we're better than you' fight that will have comment moderators everywhere groaning. AMD believes they have the best line up of GPUs, and that should be evident everywhere to everyone. When asked to clarify what best means, I was referred to AMD's many wins for Gaming Evolved, where titles and drivers are optimized for triple-A titles before launch. Offered the opportunity to comment on smoothness instead of raw performance being the metric people are using to gauge the 'win', AMD reiterated their commitment to drivers as a key part of their ongoing initiative for their products, and specifically looking to smoothness concerns.
AMD will finish out 2013 with a new top to bottom line of cards, replacing the HD 7000 series. It's not clear at this time if these will be branded the AMD Radeon HD 8000 series of it they will be something else for 2014, back aligned with the OEM series. Codenames like Volcanic Islands and Pirate Islands went undisclosed, but 2014 is the target for HSA integrated GPUs. 2014 is also the target for GlobalFoundries 20nm process and is expected to be the cutover from TSMC to GloFo, as AMD keeps it 'in the family (of investors)'.
The call left many of the participants expressing confusion or bemusement, but did in fact go a long way to define what AMD is doing right now, and set a marker for when new cards will be available. In the sense that we don't have details on new architectures, products, speeds it was a disappointment but that's hardly surprising - AMD claims the HD 7000 sales are still rising, with no peak yet in sight thanks in part to AMD's Never Settle and Never Settle Reloaded campaigns, although we're mindful that they didn't disclose the markets in which sales are ramping. For gaming enthusiasts, AMD is keeping quiet on what's coming but that there is more to come from the HD 7000 series; AMD is not done yet and ended the call with a strong statement - 'We believe we will maintain leadership.'