Final Words

Unlike a product review, there’s very little I can do to conclude here. There’s no buying recommendation, no performance to summarize. Even as an analytical piece there’s not much for me to conclude based on what I’ve learned at this point. When I wrote The RV770 Story I was convinced that ATI had embraced a new, refocused approach to GPU design, only to learn that they nearly threw out all of the learnings with the RV870.

The Northern Islands GPUs, due out later this year, were surely designed before anyone knew how RV870 would play out. Much less whether or not Fermi/GF100 would be this late.

I’m not sure any of what we’ve seen thus far in the history leading up to the RV770 or RV870 can tell us what we should expect from Northern Islands. While we can’t conclude about ATI’s future products, I do believe I have learned a considerable amount about how AMD’s graphics division works.

Carrell told me that the process of doing a product is not a logical process. There's logic in it, but it's not a logical process. It's an argumentative process. Not in the sense of having conflicts, but rather developing new data when the data isn't all there. When companies like AMD and NVIDIA do a product the engineers don't know all of the answers, and the knowledge they do have isn't binary - it's probability, it's weight, it's guesses. Sometimes they guess right, and sometimes they guess very wrong. The best they can do is to all weigh in with their individual experiences and together come up with the best group of guesses to implement. Over the years it seems that ATI has learned to, as much as possible, have all members of its team bought in to the product they're building.

The graphics team’s dedication and experience in jumping to new process technologies seems to have paid off with this generation. The move from TSMC to Global Foundries will surely challenge them once more. It’s not all about process technology though. The team’s focus on schedule and execution was a much needed addition to the company’s repertoire.

Carrell Killebrew helped turn ATI from a traditional GPU company with a poor track record, to one that could be known for its execution. The past three product generations have been executed extremely well. Regardless of whether you're an AMD, Intel or NVIDIA fan, you must give credit where it's due. The past couple of years have shown us a dramatic turn around from the graphics group at AMD. To go from the shakiness of the R500 and R600 GPUs to solidly executing on the RV670, 770 and 870 year after year is praiseworthy. I almost wonder if AMD’s CPU team could learn from the graphics group's execution. I do hope that along with the ATI acquisition came the open mindedness to learn from one another.

Preventing Espionage at AMD: How The Eyefinity Project Came to Be
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  • Spoelie - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    phoronix.com
    for all things ATi + Linux
    Reply
  • SeanHollister - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Fantastic work, Anand. It's so difficult to make pieces like this work without coming across as puffery, but everything here feels genuine and evenhanded. Here's hoping for similar articles featuring individuals at NVIDIA, Intel and beyond in the not-too-distant future. Reply
  • boslink - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Just like many others i'm also reading/visiting anandtech for years but this article made me register just to say damn good job.

    Also for the long time i didn't read article from cover to cover. Usually i read first page and maybe second (enough to guess what's in other pages) and than skip to conclusions.

    But this article remind us that Graphic card/chip is not only silicon. Real people story is what makes this article great.

    Thanks Anand
    Reply
  • AmdInside - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Great article as usual. Sunspot seems like the biggest non-factor in the 5x00 series. Except for hardware reviews sites which have lots of monitors lying around, I just don't see a need for it. It is like NVIDIA's 3D Vision. Concept sounds good but in general practice, it is not very realistic that a user will use it. Just another check box that a company can point to to an OEM and say we have it and they don't. NVIDIA has had Eyefinity for a while (SLI Mosaic). It just is very expensive since it is targeted towards businesses and not consumers and offers some features Eyefinity doesn't offer.I think NVIDIA just didn't believe consumers really wanted it but added it afterwards just so that ATI doesn't have a checkbox they can brag about. But NVIDIA probably still believes this is mainly a business feature.

    It is always interesting to learn how businesses make product decisions internally. I always hate reading interviews of PR people. I learn zero. Talk to engineers if you really want to learn something.
    Reply
  • BelardA - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    I think the point of Eyefinity is that its more hardware based and natural... not requiring so much work from the game publisher. A way of having higher screen details over a span of monitors.

    A few games will actually span 2 or 3 monitors. Or some will use the 2nd display as a control panel. With Eyefinity, it tells the game "I have #### x #### pixels" and auto divides the signal onto 3 or 6 screens and be playable. That is quite cool.

    But as you say, its a bit of a non-factor. Most users will still only have one display to work with. Hmmm. there was a monitor that was almost seamless 3-monitors built together, where is that?

    Also, I think the TOP-SECRET aspect of Sun-Spots was a way of testing security. Eyefinity isn't a major thing... but the hiding of it was.

    While employees do move about in the business, the sharing of trade-secrets could still get them in trouble - if caught. It does happen, but how much?
    Reply
  • gomakeit - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I love these insightful articles! This is why Anandtech is one of my favorite tech sites ever! Reply
  • Smell This - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Probably could have done without the snide reference to the CPU division at the end of the article - it added nothing and was a detraction from the overall piece.

    It also implies a symbiotic relationship between AMDs 40+ year battle with Chipzilla and the GPU Wars with nV. Not really an accurate correlation. The CPU division has their own headaches.

    It is appropriate to note, however, that both divisions must bring their 'A' Game to the table with the upcoming convergence on-die of the CPU-GPU.
    Reply
  • mrwilton - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Thank you, Anand, for this great and fun-to-read article. It really has been some time where I have read an article cover to cover.

    Keep up the excellent work.

    Best wishes, wt
    Reply
  • Ananke - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I have 5850, it is a great card. However, what people saying about PC gaming is true - gaming on PC slowly fades towards consoles. You cannot justify several thousand-dollar PC versus a 2-300 multimedia console.

    So powerful GPU is a supercomputer by itself. Please ATI, make better Avivo transcoder, push open software development using Steam further. We need many applications, not just Photoshop and Cyberlink. We need hundreds, and many free, to utilize this calculation power. Then, it will make sense to use this cards.
    Reply
  • erple2 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Perhaps. However, this "PC Gaming is being killed off by the 2-300 multimedia console" war has been going on since the Playstation 1 came out. PC gaming is still doing very well.

    I think that there will always be some sort of market (even if only 10% - that's significant enough to make companies take notice) for PC Gaming. While I still have to use the PC for something, I'll continue to use it for gaming, as well.

    Reading the article, I find it poignant that the focus is on //execution// rather than //ideas//. It reminds me of a blog written by Jeff Atwood (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/01/cultivate...">http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2010/01/cultivate... if you're interested) about the exact same thing. Focus on what you //do//. Execution (ie "what do we have an 80%+ chance of getting done on time) is more important than the idea (ie features you can claim on a spec sheet).

    As a hardware developer (goes the same for any software developer), your job is to release the product. That means following a schedule. That means focusing on what you can do, not on what you want to do. It sounds to me like ATI has been following that paradigm, which is why they seem to be doing so well these days.

    What's particularly encouraging about the story written was that Management had the foresight to actually listen to the technical side when coming up with the schedules and requirements. That, in and of itself, is something that a significant number of companies just don't do well.

    It's nice to hear from the internal wing of the company from time to time, and not just the glossy presentation of hardware releases.

    I for one thoroughly enjoyed the read. I liked the perspective that the RV5-- err Evergreen gave on the process of developing hardware. What works, and what doesn't.

    Great article. Goes down in my book with the SSD and RV770 articles as some of the best IT reads I've done.
    Reply

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