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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  • ImmortalZ - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Long time reader and lurker here.

    This article is one of the best I've read here - hell, it's one of the best I've ever read on any tech site. Reading about and getting perspective on what makes companies like ATI tick is great. Thank you and please, more!
    Reply
  • tygrus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Sequences of numbers in a logical way are easier to remember than names. The RV500, RV600 .. makes order obvious. Using multiple names within a generation of chips are confusing and not memorable. They do not convey sequence or relative complexity.

    Can you ask if AMD are analysing current games/GPGPU and future games/GPGPU to identify possible areas for improvement or skip less useful proposed design changes. Like the Intel >2% gain for <1% cost.
    Reply
  • Yakk - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Excellent article! As I've read in a few other comments, this article (and one similar I'd read prior) made me register for the first time, even if I've been reading this site for many years.

    I could see why "Behind the scenes" articles can make certain companies nervous and others not, mostly based on their own "corporate culture" I'd think.

    It was a very good read, and I'm sure every engineer who worked on any given generation on GPU's could have many stories to tell about tech challenges and baffling (at the time) corporate decisions. And also a manager's side of the work in navigating corporate red tape, working with people, while delivering something worthwhile as an end product is also a huge. Having a good manager (people) with a good subject knowledge (tech) is rare, then for Corp. Execs. to know they have one is MUCH rarer still...

    If anyone at AMD/ATI read these comments, PLEASE look at the hardware division and try to implement changes to the software division to match their successes...

    (btw been using nv cards almost exclusively since the TNT days, and just got a 5870 for the first time this month. ATI Hardware I'd give an "A+", Software... hmm, I'd give it a "C". Funny thing is nv is almost the exact opposite right now)
    Reply
  • Perisphetic - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Someone nominate this man for the Pulitzer Prize!

    As many have stated before, this is a fantastic article. It goes beyond extraordinary, exceptional and excellent. This has become my new benchmark for high quality computer industry related writing.
    Thank you sir.
    Reply
  • ritsu - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    It's not exactly The Soul of a New Machine. But, fine article. It's nice to have a site willing to do this sort of work.
    Reply
  • shaggart5446 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    very appreciative for this article im from ja but reading this make me file like ill go back to school thanks anand ur the best big up yeah man Reply
  • 529th - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    The little knowledge I have about the business of making a graphics card, that it was Eyefinity that stunted the stability-growth of the 5xxx drivers by the allocation of resources of the software engineers to make Eyefinity work. Reply
  • chizow - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I usually don't care much for these fluff/PR pieces but this one was pretty entertaining, probably because there was less coverage of what the PR/Marketing guys had to say and more emphasis on the designers and engineers. Carrell sounds like a very interesting guy and a real asset to AMD, they need more innovators like him leading their company and less media exposure from PR talking heads like Chris Hook. Almost tuned out when I saw that intro pic, thankfully the article shifted focus quickly.

    As for the article itself, among the many interesting points made in there, a few that caught my eye:

    1) It sounds like some of the sacrifices made with RV870's die size help explain why it fell short of doubling RV770/790 in terms of performance scaling. Seems as if memory controllers might've also been cut as edge real estate was lost, and happen to be the most glaring case where RV870 specs weren't doubled with regard to RV770.

    2) The whole cloak and dagger bit with EyeFinity was very amusing and certainly helps give these soulless tech giants some humanity and color.

    3) Also with EyeFinity, I'd probably say Nvidia's solution will ultimately be better, as long as AMD continues to struggle with CrossFire EyeFinity support. It actually seems as if Nvidia is applying the same framebuffer splitting technology via PCIe/SLI link with their recently announced Optimus technology to Nvidia Surround, both of course lending technology from their Quadro line of cards.

    4) The discussion about fabs/yields was also very interesting and helps shed some light on some of the differences between the strategies used by both companies in the past to present. AMD has always leveraged new process technologies in the past as soon as possible, Nvidia in the past has more closely followed Intel's Tick/Tock cadence of building high-end on mature processes and teething smaller chips on new processes. That clearly changed this time around on 40nm so it'll be interesting to see what AMD does going forward. I was surprised there wasn't any discussion about why AMD hasn't looked into GlobalFoundries as their GPU foundry.

    Reply
  • SuperGee - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    nV eyeFinity counter solution is a fast software reaction wich is barly the same thing. You need SLI because one GPU can do only 2 active ports. That the main diference. So you depend on a more high-end platform. A SLI mobo PSU capable of feeding two Gcards. While ATI give yo 3 or 6 ou t of one GPU.
    nV can deliver something native in there next design. Equal and the possibility to be better at it. But we are still waiting for there DX11 parts. I wonder if they could slap a solution in the refresh or can do only wenn they introduce the new archtecture "GF200".

    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Actually EyeFinity's current CF problems are most likely a software problem which is why Nvidia's solution is already superior from a flexibility and scalability standpoint. They've clearly worked out the kinks of running multiple GPUs to a single frame buffer and then redistributing portions of that framebuffer to different GPU outputs.

    AMD's solution seems to have problems because output on each individual GPU is only downstream atm, so while one GPU can send frame data to a primary GPU for CF, it seems secondary GPUs have problems receiving frame data to output portions of the frame.

    Why I say Nvidia's solution is better overall is simply because the necessity of SLI will automatically decrease the chance of a poor gaming experience when gaming at triple resolutions, which is clearly a problem with some newer games and single-GPU EyeFinity. Also, if AMD was able to use multiple card display outputs, it would solve the problem of requiring a $100 active DP dongle for the 3rd output if a user doesn't have a DP capable monitor.
    Reply

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