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Cayman: The Last 32nm Castaway

With the launch of the Barts GPU and the 6800 series, we touched on the fact that AMD was counting on the 32nm process to give them a half-node shrink to take them in to 2011. When TSMC fell behind schedule on the 40nm process, and then the 32nm process before canceling it outright, AMD had to start moving on plans for a new generation of 40nm products instead.

The 32nm predecessor of Barts was among the earlier projects to be sent to 40nm. This was due to the fact that before 32nm was even canceled, TSMC’s pricing was going to make 32nm more expensive per transistor than 40nm, a problem for a mid-range part where AMD has specific margins they’d like to hit. Had Barts been made on the 32nm process as projected, it would have been more expensive to make than on the 40nm process, even though the 32nm version would be smaller. Thus 32nm was uneconomical for gaming GPUs, and Barts was moved to the 40nm process.

Cayman on the other hand was going to be a high-end part. Certainly being uneconomical is undesirable, but high-end parts carry high margins, especially if they can be sold in the professional market as compute products (just ask NVIDIA). As such, while Barts went to 40nm, Cayman’s predecessor stayed on the 32nm process until the very end. The Cayman team did begin planning to move back to 40nm before TSMC officially canceled the 32nm process, but if AMD had a choice at the time they would have rather had Cayman on the 32nm process.

As a result the Cayman we’re seeing today is not what AMD originally envisioned as a 32nm part. AMD won’t tell us everything that they had to give up to create the 40nm Cayman (there has to be a few surprises for 28nm) but we do know a few things. First and foremost was size; AMD’s small die strategy is not dead, but getting the boot from the 32nm process does take the wind out of it. At 389mm2 Cayman is the largest AMD GPU since the disastrous R600, and well off the sub-300mm2 size that the small die strategy dictates. In terms of efficient usage of space though AMD is doing quite well; Cayman has 2.64 billion transistors, 500mil more than Cypress. AMD was able to pack 29% more transistors in only 16% more space.

Even then, just reaching that die size is a compromise between features and production costs. AMD didn’t simply settle for a larger GPU, but they had to give up some things to keep it from being even larger. SIMDs were on the chopping block; 32nm Cayman would have had more SIMDs for more performance. Features were also lost, and this is where AMD is keeping mum. We know PCI Express 3.0 functionality was scheduled for the 32nm part, where AMD had to give up their PCIe 3.0 controller for a smaller 2.1 controller to make up for their die size difference. This in all honesty may have worked out better for them: PCIe 3.0 ended up being delayed until November, so suitable motherboards are still at least months away.

The end result is that Cayman as we know it is a compromise to make it happen on 40nm. AMD got their new VLIW4 architecture, but they had to give up performance and an unknown number of features to get there. On the flip side this will make 28nm all the more interesting, as we’ll get to see many of the features that were supposed to make it for 2010 but never arrived.

Refresher: The 6800 Series’ New Features VLIW4: Finding the Balance Between TLP, ILP, and Everything Else
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  • henrikfm - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    The right numbers for these cards considering the performance:

    6970 -> 5875
    6950 -> 5855
    Reply
  • flyck - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    Anand also tested with 'outdated' drivers. It is ofcourse AMD fault to not supply the best drivers available at launch though. But anand used 10.10, Reviews that use 10.11 like HardOcp see that the 6950 performance equally or better than 570GTx!! and 6970 trades blows with 580GTX but is overall little slower (but faster than 570GTX).

    And now we have to wait for the 10.12 drivers which were meant to be for 69xx series.
    Reply
  • flyck - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    my bad anand tested with 10.11 :shame:
    10.12 don't seam to improve performance.

    That said, Anand would it be possible to change your graphs?
    Starting with the low quality and ending with the high quality? And also make the high quality chart for single cards only. Now it just isn't readable with SLI and crossfire numbers through it.

    According to your results 6970 is > 570 and 6950~570 but only when everything turned on.. but one cannot deduct that with the current presentation.
    Reply
  • Will Robinson - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    $740 for HD6970 CrossfireX dominates GTX580 SLI costing over $1000.
    That's some serious ownage right there.
    Good pricing on these new cards and solid numbers for power/heat and noise.
    Seems like a good new series of cards from AMD.
    Reply
  • prdola0 - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    No, you're wrong. Re-read the graphs. GTX580 SLI wins most of the time. Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    By a small average amount, and for ~$250 extra.
    Once you get to that level, you're not really hurting for performance anyway, so for people who really just want to play games and aren't interested in having the "fastest card" just to have it, the 6970 is the best value.
    Reply
  • Nfarce - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    True. However AMD has just about always been about value over an all out direct card horsepower war with Nvidia. Some people are willing to spend for bragging rights.

    But I'm a little suspect on AT's figures with these cards. Two other tech sites (Toms Hardware and Guru3D) show the GTX 570 and 580 solidly beating the 6950 and 6970 respectively in the same games with similar PC builds.
    Reply
  • IceDread - Friday, December 17, 2010 - link

    You are wrong. HD 5970 in crossfire wins over gtx 580 sli. But anandtech did not test that. Reply
  • ypsylon - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    A lot of people were anxious to see what AMD will bring to the market with 6950/6970. And once again not much. Some minor advantages (like 5FPS in handul of games) is nothing worth writing or screaming about. For now GTX580 is more expensive, but now with AMD unveiling new cards nVidia will get really serious about the price. That $500 price point won't live for long. I expecting at least 50$ off that in the next 4-6 weeks.

    GTX580 is best option today for someone who is interested in new VGA, if you do own right now 5850/5870/5970 (CF or not) don't even bother with 69[whatever].
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - link

    at that price point a 580 the best buy, get lost. The 580 is way over prized for the small performance increase it has above 570-6970 not to mentioning the additional power consumption. Don't see any reason at all to buy that card.

    Indeed no need to upgrade from a 58xx series but neither would be to move to a nv based card.
    Reply

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