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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  • Stas - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Awesome. Thanks! Reply
  • Adul - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Really helps pass the time at work today. :) Keep it up.

    Btw when can we expect to see the new site launch?
    Reply
  • aapocketz - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    [quote]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. [/quote]

    It sounds like they have had some successes trying different techniques, but without stability in their production process it is hard to repeat success. I understand that they require constant innovation to stay competitive, but throwing out whole processes seems chaotic to me. I would like them to refine and improve successful processes rather than toss everything every time a new business guru is in charge.

    Also half of their effort was all about openness and collaboration. The opening up of the PRS document so that "everyone was involved in the process" seems to clash with the hyper-secret groups where "AMD has since incorporated much of Carrell’s brand of information compartmentalization into how it handled other upcoming features." This seems like a recipe for disaster to me. Which is it, broad openness, collaboration and consesus; or secret teams that have no idea what the other teams are doing?
    Reply
  • SuperGee - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    The story told us that they didn't know it will become a succes because these desision where made before RV770 release. So doing the high risk choice again. Wasn't a nobrainer. But a risky choice. We know that it turn out good now. Reply
  • mckirkus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    It's kind of funny that you're not yet running one of these companies yet Anand.

    One of the reasons I check this site on a daily basis is because you also seem to also get the business side of the equation. It's downright refreshing to see someone bridging that gap. You pretty much saved the Vertex from self destruction. I'd like to see what interesting things you could build us if you put your mind to it.
    Reply
  • deputc26 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Articles like these are what differentiate AnandTech from all the other sites out there. AnandTech goes from being one of the best review sites out there to something special.

    Beyond excellent, thanks Anand.
    Reply
  • rickyv - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    As a loyal follower of your website for the past 15 years, I also felt that I just had to register and compliment you on an excellent article.

    With the rapid advancement of technology, it is very easy just to get caught up in the PR and marketing hype or focus only on the numbers game. We often lose sight of the fact that it is teams of dedicated people who make this possible. You have always had the ability to bring out the "human" side to this. I have not seen this on any other site nor in printed form (that is not an unashamedly PR marketing exercise).

    Thanks for staying true to your roots by giving honest opinions of the technology that you review. The latest releases are not necessarily always the greatest (as much as the marketing departments would like us to believe :-) )
    Reply
  • krish123 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    After i read the article, I found that "Engine is running well and firing on all the cylinders", It can create better products in the future, I can trust and buy ATI products, hope they deliver better products in the future for my upgrade.

    "Kudos to Anand for the excellent article".

    By the way graphics card is a product, not just hardware, it has to work in tandem with the software, its better ATI put some more effort on the driver/software side and fix all the issues.

    Krish
    Reply
  • smartalec - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    "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."

    I'm afraid this is how all engineering works. Project managers think that engineers can predict the future. That we know exactly how much time it'll take, and how much risk a given feature will bring.

    We don't. There's a lot of educated guesses. Sometimes we're pleasantly surprised that what we thought was a tough problem wasn't. Sometimes we're the bearer of bad news-- something we assumed would be trivial wasn't.

    My most frustrating issues aren't technical at all. I ask for 2000 hours, and are given 1000. Or are given 2 engineers instead of 3, and told-- figure out a way to get it done anyway, without impacting schedule.

    Great article Anand.
    Reply
  • mckirkus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Any decent project manager (I do software) reviews the risks up front with the engineers before building the project plan / timeline.

    The fact that most project managers don't really understand the products they manage is the rule not the exception. The problem is that great engineers don't always make great PMs. Having a good tech lead helps.
    Reply

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