TPS Rep...err PRS Documents

At ATI there’s a document called the Product Requirement Specification, PRS for short. It was originally a big text document written in Microsoft Word.

The purpose of the document is to collect all of the features that have to go into the GPU being designed, and try to prioritize them. There are priority 1 features, which are must-haves in the document. Very few of these get canned. Priority 2, priority 3 and priority 4 features follow. The higher the number, the less likely it’ll make it into the final GPU.

When Carrell Killebrew first joined ATI, his boss at the time (Dave Orton) tasked him with changing this document. Orton asked Carrell to put together a PRS that doesn’t let marketing come up with excuses for failure. This document would be a laundry list of everything marketing wants in ATI’s next graphics chip. At the same time, the document wouldn’t let engineering do whatever it wanted to do. It would be a mix of what marketing wants and what engineering can do. Orton wanted this document to be enough of a balance that everyone, whether from marketing or engineering, would feel bought into when it’s done.

Carrell joined in 2003, but how ATI developed the PRS didn’t change until 2005.

The Best Way to Lose a Fight - How R5xx Changed ATI

In the 770 story I talked about how ATI’s R520 delay caused a ripple effect impacting everything in the pipeline, up to and including R600. It was during that same period (2005) that ATI fundamentally changed its design philosophy. ATI became very market schedule driven.


ATI's R520 Architecture. It was delayed.

The market has big bulges and you had better deliver at those bulges. Having product ready for the Q4 holiday season, or lining up with major DirectX or Windows releases, these are important bulges in the market. OEM notebook design cycles are also very important to align your products with. You have to deliver at these bulges. ATI’s Eric Demers (now the CTO of AMD's graphics group) put it best: if you don’t show up to the fight, by default, you lose. ATI was going to stop not showing up to the fight.

ATI’s switch to being more schedule driven meant that feature lists had to be kept under control. Which meant that Carrell had to do an incredible job drafting that PRS.

What resulted was the 80% rule. The items that made it onto the PRS were features that engineering felt had at least an 80% chance of working on time. Everyone was involved in this process. Every single senior engineer, everyone. Marketing and product managers got their opportunities to request what they wanted, but nothing got committed to without some engineer somewhere believing that the feature could most likely make it without slipping schedule.

This changed a lot of things.

First, it massively increased the confidence level of the engineering team. There’s this whole human nature aspect to everything in life, it comes with being human. Lose confidence and execution sucks, but if you are working towards a realistic set of goals then morale and confidence are both high. The side effect is that a passionate engineer will also work to try and beat those goals. Sly little bastards.

The second change is that features are more easily discarded. Having 200 features on one of these PRS documents isn’t unusual. Getting it down to about 80 is what ATI started doing after R5xx.

In the past ATI would always try to accommodate new features and customer requests. But the R5xx changes meant that if a feature was going to push the schedule back, it wasn’t making it in. Recently Intel changed its design policy, stating that any feature that was going into the chip had to increase performance by 2% for every 1% increase in power consumption. ATI’s philosophy stated that any feature going into the chip couldn’t slip schedule. Prior to the R5xx generation ATI wasn’t really doing this well; serious delays within this family changed all of that. It really clamped down on feature creep, something that’s much worse in hardware than in software (bigger chips aren’t fun to debug or pay for).

Index The Other Train - Building a Huge RV870
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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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