AMD's "Small-Die" Strategy

We outlined AMD's "new" GPU strategy in our Radeon HD 4850 preview article, but in short AMD has committed to designing GPUs for the mainstream $199 - $299 segment and simply using CrossFire (multi-GPU) to address higher end markets. NVIDIA on the other hand will continue to make very large monolithic GPUs in order to continue to push the industry forward. Both approaches are appreciated and necessary, they simply target different markets.

In our GT200 review we highlighted the fact that NVIDIA had built an extremely large, highly parallel, microprocessor. With 1.4 billion transistors and a die size of around 576 mm^2, NVIDIA's GT200 is nothing short of huge.

The table on the previous page shows that AMD's RV770, despite being aimed at mainstream gamer price points ($199 - $299), is also very large. At 956M transistors, the RV770 has 44% more transistors than RV670 and 68% the transistor count of NVIDIA's GT200. We threw the RV770 into NVIDIA's die size comparison just for kicks:


Based on what we know of NVIDIA's die size, this should be to scale

Even AMD's die, although designed to be svelte and affordable, is big - especially for being fabbed at TSMC. NVIDIA still holds the crown for largest die fabbed at TSMC, but AMD shows us that even a more mainstream approach still requires tons of transistors. As we mentioned in our 4850 preview:

"A pair of RV770s, AMD's new GPU, end up consuming more power than a single GT200 - despite being built on a smaller 55nm process.

A pair of these RV770s only costs $400 compared to $650 for a single GT200, but I suspect that part of that is due to differences in manufacturing process. If NVIDIA hadn't been so risk averse with the GT200 and built it on 55nm (not that I'm advocating it, simply posing a hypothetical), the cost differences would be smaller - if not in favor of NVIDIA since GT200 is built on a single card.

When the smoke clears, AMD's strategy is to simply build a GPU for the masses and attempt to scale it up and down. While NVIDIA is still building its GPUs the same way it has for decades, starting very large and scaling down.

AMD isn't taking a radically different approach to building and designing GPUs than NVIDIA, it's simply building one market segment lower."

We've got a lot of discussion on efficiency between AMD and NVIDIA coming up in this article, although AMD's die is noticeably smaller than NVIDIA's - as you've already seen with the Radeon HD 4850 - there are many areas where RV770 can go toe-to-toe with NVIDIA's mammoth GT200.

Index Building a RV770
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  • DerekWilson - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    i don't understand what you mean by raw numbers ... these are the numbers we got in our tests ...

    we can't do crossfire on the nvidia board we tested and we can't do sli on the intel board we tested ...

    we do have another option (skulltrail) but people seemed not to like that we went there ... and it was a pain in the ass to test with. plus fb-dimm performance leaves something to be desired.

    in any case, without testing every solution in two different platforms we did the best we could in the time we had. it might be interesting to look at testing single card performance in two different platforms for all cards, but that will have to be a separate article and would be way to tough to do for a launch.
    Reply
  • Denithor - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    In Bioshock in the multiGPU section the SLI 9800GTX+ seems to fall down on the job. In all other benches this SLI beats out the GTX 280 easily, here it fails miserably. While even the SLI 8800GT beats the GTX 280. Methinks something's wrong here. Reply
  • jamstan - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    Egg's got them for 309.99. I'm gonna run 2 4870s in CF. I planned on using a P45 board but I am wondering if the P45s X8 per card will bottleneck the bandwidth and if I should go with an X48 board instead? When I research CF all I seem to find is "losing any bandwidth at X8 versus X16 is "debateable". What I'm thinking is that 8 pipelines can handle 4GBs so if I look at the 4870s 3.6 Gbs of memory bandwidth then X8 should be able to handle the 4870 without any performance hits. It that correct or am I all wet? Reply
  • jamstan - Friday, June 27, 2008 - link

    I contacted ATI and they said I was correct. A P45 board only running X8 per card in CF will bottleneck the massive DDR5 bandwidth of the 4870s. If you're gonna CF 2 4870s use an X38 or X48 board. Reply
  • SVM79 - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    I created an account just to say how awesome this article was. It was really nice to see all the technical details laid out and compared to the competition. I was lucky to get in on that $150 hd4850 price at best buy last week and I am hoping the future drivers with improve performance even more. Please keep up the good work on these articles!!! Reply
  • DerekWilson - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    Wow, Anand and I are honored.

    We absolutely appreciate the feedback we've gotten from all of you guys (even the bad stuff cause it helps us refine our future articles).

    of course we enjoy the good stuff more :-)

    thanks again, everyone.
    Reply
  • D3SI - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    Long time reader, first time poster

    great article, very informative

    looks like the 4870 is the card to get, cant be beat at that price

    and yes a lot of posters are reading way too much into it "you're biased waaa waaa boo hoo"

    just get the facts from the article (thats what the charts and graphs are for) and then make your decision, if you cant do simple math and come to the conclusion yourself that the $300 card is a better buy than the $650 then you deserve to get ripped off.
    Reply
  • joeschleprock - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    nVidia just got their pussy smoked. Reply
  • kelectron - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    a very important comparison is missing. for those who want to go in for a multi-GPU setup, the 260 SLI vs 4870 CF is a very important consideration since SLI scaling has always been better than CF, and the 260 scales very very well.

    in that case, if nvidia responds by reducing the price on the 260, the 260 SLI could be the real winner here. but sadly there were no 260 SLI benches.

    please give us a 260 SLI vs 4870 CF review.
    Reply
  • Final Destination II - Wednesday, June 25, 2008 - link

    Dear girls and guys,

    does anyone know of a manufacturer, who offers a HD4850 with a better cooler? I'm desperately searching for one...


    Please reply!
    Reply

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