Haswell's GPU

Although Intel provided a good amount of detail on the CPU enhancements to Haswell, the graphics discussion at IDF was fairly limited. That being said, there's still some to talk about here.

Haswell builds on the same fundamental GPU architecture we saw in Ivy Bridge. We won't see a dramatic redesign/re-plumbing of the graphics hardware until Broadwell in 2014 (that one is going to be a big one).

Haswell's GPU will be available in three physical configurations: GT1, GT2 and GT3. Although Intel mentioned that the Haswell GT3 config would have twice the shader count of Haswell GT2, it was careful not to disclose the total number of EUs in any of the versions. Based on the information we have at this point, GT3 should be a 40 EU configuration while GT2 should feature 20 EUs. Intel will also be including up to one redundant EU to deal with the case where there's a defect in an EU in the array. This isn't an uncommon practice, but it does indicate just how much of the die will be dedicated to graphics in Haswell. The larger of an area the GPU covers, the greater the likelihood that you'll see unrecoverable defects in the GPU. Redundancy at the EU level is one way of mitigating that problem.

Haswell's processor graphics extends API support to DirectX 11.1, OpenCL 1.2 and OpenGL 4.0.

At the front of the graphics pipeline is a new resource streamer. The RS offloads some driver work that the CPU would normally handle and moves it to GPU hardware instead. Both AMD and NVIDIA have significant command processors so this doesn't appear to be an Intel advantage although the devil is in the (unshared) details. The point from Intel's perspective is that any amount of processing it can shift away from general purpose CPU hardware and onto the GPU can save power (CPU cores go to sleep while the RS/CS do their job).

Beyond the resource streamer, most of the fixed function graphics hardware sees a doubling of performance in Haswell.

At the shader core level, Intel separates the GPU design into two sections: slice common and sub-slice. Slice common includes the rasterizer, pixel back end and GPU L3 cache. The sub-slice includes all of the EUs, instruction caches and EUs.

In Haswell GT1 and GT2 there's a single slice common, while GT3 sees a doubling of slice common. GT3 similarly has two sub-slices, although once again Intel isn't talking specifics about EU counts or clock speeds between GT1/2/3.

The final bit of detail Intel gave out about Haswell's GPU is the texture sampler sees up to a 4x improvement in throughput over Ivy Bridge in some modes.

Now to the things that Intel didn't let loose at IDF. Although originally an option for Ivy Bridge (but higher ups at Intel killed plans for it) was a GT3 part with some form of embedded DRAM. Rumor has it that Apple was the only customer who really demanded it at the time, and Intel wasn't willing to build a SKU just for Apple.

Haswell will do what Ivy Bridge didn't. You'll see a version of Haswell with up to 128MB of embedded DRAM, with a lot of bandwidth available between it and the core. Both the CPU and GPU will be able to access this embedded DRAM, although there are obvious implications for graphics.

Overall performance gains should be about 2x for GT3 (presumably with eDRAM) over HD 4000 in a high TDP part. In Ultrabooks those gains will be limited to around 30% max given the strict power limits.

As for why Intel isn't talking about embedded DRAM on Haswell, your guess is as good as mine. The likely release timeframe for Haswell is close to June 2013, there's still tons of time between now and then. It looks like Intel still has a desire to remain quiet on some fronts.

TSX Haswell Media Engine: QuickSync the Third


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  • Paulman - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    As I was reading this article, about part way into the low platform power sections I suddenly had this thought: "Oh man, AMD is gonna die...!"

    I don't know if that's true for the entire microprocessor side of AMD, since they look like they're already starting to transition out of the desktop space, but I don't know if they're going to stand much of a chance if they're planning on entering the same TDP range as Haswell.

    Do you think there's a chance AMD will start focussing on designing ARM ISA cores? Or will expanding on their x86 Bobcat-type cores be enough for them?
  • sean.crees - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I also worry about AMD. AMD has been 1-2 steps behind Intel for a while now, and now it seems Intel is at least 1 or 2 steps behind ARM and the future. Is that going to mean AMD is just too far behind to stay relevant now? If nothing else, i suppose AMD can fall back on graphic cards with it's ATI acquisition. Reply
  • Da W - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    If Haswell keeps x86 relevant in the tablet space and thus Windows 8 has the upper edge over Windows RT and Windows tablets can grab +-50% market share from the iPad, then it can be good for AMD, provided they survive that long. Reply
  • RedemptionAD - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    If AMD can create a team to focus on increasing IPC with a goal to one up Intel and have the ATI graphics people keep doing what they do with a time goal of say 2 years, (Note: Portables/Notebooks/Desktops should all be x64 by then), then I think that AMD will be able to return to their Athlon 64 glory days or better. Reply
  • Da W - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    AMD spend 1/10th of Intel in R&D. There are things they just cant do, i suspect pursuing higher x86 single trend performance is one of them. Reply
  • StevoLincolnite - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    However, allot of the R&D Intel spends is on lithography type technologies, AMD doesn't have to spend Billions on such things anymore.

    Besides, a simple way for AMD to beat Intel when Intel is a node ahead is to throw more transistors at the problem which they have succeeded very well at doing in the past.
    Mind you, that comes at the cost of power and die size, however with stuff like clock mesh it can negate some of that.
  • Kevin G - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Being four steps behind ARM isn't necessarily a bad thing unless you're trying to leap frog them. AMD appears to be content with letting Intel spearhead the effort to get into the ultramobile market. With Intel two steps behind of ARM and they couldn't leap frog over ARM, there is little chance that AMD would be able to do the same. It isn't just knowing what battles to fight but also when to fight them. Reply
  • abufrejoval - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    It was only when I was reading Jana Rutkowska's notes on the current UI limitations within Qubes, that I finally understood (I believe!) the message which AMD has been pushing for quite a few years now: GPU compute will truly be an integral part of their future APUs in one or two generations, becoming almost an augmented instruction set instead of just a SoC.

    Currently all Qubes "user" applications, that is everything except the Dom0, can't use the GPU to render their graphics: It's basically software rendering into an off-screen composition buffer and then GPU assisted composition of these software buffers onto the visible screen (this time with all the wobble and transition effects we've all come to expect and love ;-)

    That's because although the GPU is on the same die even on the newest Trinity class APUs, it's still logically very separate, sharing only some stuff but bypassing, I believe, the ordinary page tables (not the IOMMU ones) and the snooping logic for caches. So even if GPU and CPU sit on the same die and use the same phyiscal DRAM bus, doing GPU compute implies using a dedicated part of that RAM in a way, which doesn't mesh seamlessly with CPU compute.

    But the roadmap seems to imply, that this limitation will go away, which would allow e.g. Qubes to use GPU assisted rendering anywhere in user space memory and thus also into a per DomU virtual framebuffer composed of quite ordinary paged virtual memory, which could then be assembled by the Dom0 for the visible screen or for video encoding and streaming to a remote display device e.g. for cloud gaming.

    This easy feeding of GPU "results" into another software layer is currently either impossible or requires major fiddling with device drivers so it's limited to the GPU vendors and bilateral deals such as nVidia and Splashtop. Once the GPU becomes more of an augmented instruction set, allowing OpenCL or even hardware primitives on ordinary user space paged virtual memory, this becomes as natural as running virtual machines with hardware virtualization.

    And at that point even the new 256bit FMA may look pretty lame compared to what hundreds of APU EUs could do. That to me explains rather well, why AMD isn't spending more transistors on a vastly improved CPU only x86 ISA: It truly belives it's a dead end for both personal and scientific workloads.

    It's a very daring bet and I very much admire them for having the vision and the balls to tie the company's survival to it. Over the last 40 years Intel seems to have failed with most of its visions (80432, i860, Itanium), but excelled on evolving x86. AMD, however, seems better on vision and noticably 2nd rate on execution.

    APUs are potentially quite dangerous both to nVidia and to Intel, because both can't easily duplicate them: The AMD/Intel cross licensing deal IMHO won't cover the GPU portion. Unless nVidia and Intel join, which would only happen if either of the two is in truly dire straights.

    But quite a few things need to fall in place over the next couple of years and AMD needs to survive them for that potential to develop. And it looks like all ther other players aren't standing still.

    Events like Apple potentially using Samsung augmented cash billions to turn TMSC into a private provider of 1x nm ARM SoCs are sending shock waves into the market, which may force "strange" alliances.

    These days when even trival things like "swipe to unlock" can be patented and used to bloodlet competitors I'm surprised to see IBM and Intel use things like transactional memory, which saw silocon first with Sun's Rock, I believe, or Intel turning to eDRAM for caches and frame buffers, which IBM's been implementing first on the p-Series.

    That leads me to an open question on the commercial workloads, which is almost the only domain, where I have difficulties seeing the immediate benefit of APUs, at least after Oracle's grab on Java and their expressed intent to make commercial workloads a SPARC exclusive (please see Larry's opening remarks on Openworld 2012): How can AMD make APUs the better Java and database engines? How can they make search, big data, map reduced or JavaScript run better on APUs?

    I can only guess that having managed CPU+GPU AMD would be in a better position to add xPU for all of the above.
  • ltcommanderdata - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    A great, detailed description of Haswell's architecture. I do have some questions though.

    You mentioned that Intel will be including up to 1 redundant EU in the GPU array. Does that mean only GT3 will have the 1 redundant EU (41 total, 40 usable) with GT2 having no redundancy? Or is it 1 redundant EU per sub-slice, so GT2 will have 1 and GT3 will have 2?

    Will the embedded DRAM be implemented PoP like in SoC? When you say we'll see a version of Haswell with embedded DRAM do will all GT3 have embedded DRAM or will only some GT3 have embedded DRAM (kind of a GT4)?

    Given the long timescales of CPU design, there would be overlap between the Haifa team working on Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge (particularly Ivy Bridge) and the Hillsboro team working on Haswell. I was wondering if you knew how much opportunity there is for learning between consecutive designs in terms of magnitude of changes possible and timescales before things are pretty much fixed? I'm in no position to judge, but I was also wondering based on your knowledge of the architectures and/or interactions with members of the design teams if you sense any distinct difference in design philosophies between the Haifa and Hillsboro teams. Afterall, the Haifa team's background was in power-efficient, mobile-oriented designs whereas Hillsboro was high-performance, desktop/server oriented. You mentioned in the article that Haswell goes back to Nehalem's 3 clock domains due to lessons learned from Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge. While I don't doubt that's the primary reason, I wonder if design philosophy played a role too since Nehalem and Haswell are both Hillsboro designs and maybe they like 3 clock domains.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately that's all the info I have on redundancy in the GPU array. I think we'll have to wait until we're closer to launch to know more. The same goes for the nature of the on-package memory.

    I wondered the same thing about the correlation between design teams and decisions in Nehalem/Haswell, I refrained from speculating on it in the article because I didn't necessarily see any reason to doing so, but I definitely noticed the same correlation. It could just be a coincidence though. Nothing else beyond the L3 cache frequency really stood out to me as being an obvious common thread between Nehalem and Haswell though.

    Take care,

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