Building a GPU for the Masses

AMD put up this graph at its recent Financial Analyst Day:

The performance segment of the desktop CPU market is only about 7% of the pie and although it generates a disproportionately large amount of revenue it’s neither the biggest segment nor the biggest revenue generator in the market. That would be the mainstream segment.

ATI realized much of the same thing back in 2005. These high end GPUs were getting more and more expensive, while R300 tipped the scales at $399 over the coming years we’d see GPUs hit $499, $599 and go north of $600 at launch. The higher prices were due to increasing die sizes and techniques such as harvesting, ensuring that regardless of how big the GPU, revenues were protected.

A $399 R300 was close enough to the mainstream price points that ATI was able to scale it down months later to address other markets, but these days the time between the high end GPU introduction and the mainstream revisions of it has increased to 6 - 9 months. We still don’t have a mainstream derivative of NVIDIA’s GT200 architecture and chances are that we won’t until around 9 months after its introduction. With the GeForce GTX 280 launching at $600, for it to take 9 months to make a $200 derivative is doing the market a disservice in ATI’s eyes.

It was time to refocus. Instead of tailoring to the needs of the high end, ATI wanted to make a product that would be the best in the $200 - $300 range. To do so would mean that it would have to reverse the strategy that made it successful to begin with, and hope that somehow NVIDIA wouldn’t follow suit.

Re-evaluating Strategy, Creating the RV770 in 2005 The Bet, Would NVIDIA Take It?
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  • Chainlink - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    I've followed Anandtech for many years but never felt the need to respond to posts or reviews. I've always used anandtech as THE source of information for tech reviews and I just wanted to show my appreciation for this article.

    Following the graphics industry is certainly a challenge, I think I've owned most of the major cards mentioned in this insitful article. But to learn some of the background of why AMD/ATI made some of the decisions they did is just AWESOME.

    I've always been AMD for CPU (won a XP1800+ at the Philly zoo!!!) and a mix of the red and green for GPUs. But I'm glad to see AMD back on track in both CPU and GPU especially (I actually have stock in them :/).

    Thanks Anand for the best article I've read anywhere, it actually made me sign up to post this!
    Reply
  • pyrosity - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Anand & Co., AMD & Co.,

    Thank you. I'm not too much into following hardware these days but this article was interesting, informative, and insightful. You all have my appreciation for what amounts to a unique, humanizing story that feels like a diamond in the rough (not to say AT is "the rough," but perhaps the sea of reviews, charts, benchmarking--things that are so temporal).
    Reply
  • Flyboy27 - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    Amazing that you got to sit down with these folks. Great article. This is why I visit anandtech.com! Reply
  • BenSkywalker - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    Is the ~$550 price point seen on ATi's current high end part evidence of them making their GPUs for the masses? If this entrire strategy is as exceptional as this article makes it out to be, and this was an effort to honestly give high end performance to the masses then why no lengthy conversation of how ATi currently offers, by a hefty margin, the most expensive graphics cards on the market? You even present the slide that demonstrates the key to obtaining the high end was scalability, yet you fail to discuss how their pricing structure is the same one nVidia was using, they simply chose to use two smaller GPUs in the place of one monolithic part. Not saying there is anything wrong with their approach at all- but your implication that it was a choice made around a populist mindset is quite out of place, and by a wide margin. They have the fastest part out, and they are charging a hefty premium for it. Wrong in any way? Absolutely not. An overall approach that has the same impact that nV or 3dfx before them had on consumers? Absolutely. Nothing remotely populist about it.

    From an engineering angle, it is very interesting how you gloss over the impact that 55nm had for ATi versus nVidia and in turn how this current direction will hold up when they are not dealing with a build process advantage. It also was interesting that quite a bit of time was given to the advantages that ATi's approach had over nV's in terms of costs, yet ATi's margins remain well behind that of nVidia's(not included in the article). All of these factors could have easily been left out of the article altogether and you could have left it as an article about the development of the RV770 from a human interest perspective.

    This article could have been a lot better as a straight human interest fluff piece, by half bringing in some elements that are favorable to the direction of the article while leaving out any analysis from an engineering or business perspective from an objective standpoint this reads a lot more like a press release then journalism.
    Reply
  • Garson007 - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    Never in the article did it say anything about ATI turning socialistic. All it did mention was that they designed a performance card instead of an enthusiast one. How they approach to finally get to the enthusiast block, and how much it is priced, is completely irrelevant to the fact that they designed a performance card. This also allowed ATI to bring better graphics to lower priced segments because the relative scaling was much less than nVidia -still- has to undertake.

    The built process was mentioned. It is completely nVidia's prerogative to ignore a certain process until they create the architecture that works on one they already know; you are bringing up a coulda/woulda/shoulda situation around nVidia's strategy - when it means nothing to the current end-user. The future after all, is the future.

    I'd respectfully disagree about the journalism statement, as I believe this to be a much higher form of journalism than a lot of what happens on the internet these days.

    I'd also disagree with the people who say that AMD is any less secretive or anything. Looking in the article there is no real information in it which could disadvantage them in any way; all this article revealed about AMD is a more human side to the inner workings.

    Thank you AMD for making this article possible, hopefully others will follow suit.
    Reply
  • travbrad - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    This was a really cool and interesting article, thanks for writing it. :)

    However there was one glaring flaw I noticed: "The Radeon 8500 wasn’t good at all; there was just no beating NVIDIA’s GeForce4, the Ti 4200 did well in the mainstream market and the Ti 4600 was king of the high end. "

    That is a very misleading and flat-out false statement. The Radeon 8500 was launched in October 2001, and the Geforce 4 was launched in April 2002 (that's a 7 month difference). I would certainly hope a card launched more than half a year later was faster.

    The Radeon 8500 was up against the Geforce3 when it was launched. It was generally as fast/faster than the similarly priced Ti200, and only a bit slower than the more expensive Ti500. Hardly what I would call "not good at all". Admittedly it wasn't nearly as popular as the Geforce3, but popularity != performance.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    That's all I have to say. As near to perfection as you can get in an article. Reply
  • hanstollo - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    Hello, I've been visiting your site for about a year now and just wanted to let you know I'm really impressed with all of the work you guys do. Thank you so much for this article as i feel i really learned a whole lot from it. It was well written and kept me engaged. I had never heard of concepts like harvesting and repairability. I had no idea that three years went into designing this GPU. I love keeping up with hardware and really trust and admire your site. Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Reply
  • dvinnen - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    Been reading this site for going on 8 years now and this article ranks up there with your best ever. As I've grown older and games have taken a back seat I find articles like this much more interesting. When a new product comes out I find myself reading the forwards and architectural bits of the articles and skipping over all the graphs to the conclusions.

    Anyways, just wish I was one of those brilliant programmers who was skilled enough to do massively parallelized programming.
    Reply
  • quanta - Friday, December 05, 2008 - link

    While the RV770 engineers may not have GDDR5 SDRAM to play with during its development, ATI can already use the GDDR4 SDRAM, which already has the memory bandwidth doubling that of GDDR5 SDRAM, AND it was already used in Radeon X1900 (R580+) cores. If there was any bandwidth superiority over NVIDIA, it was because of NVIDIA's refusal to switch to GDDR4, not lack of technology. Reply

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