The RV870 Story: AMD Showing up to the Fight

by Anand Lal Shimpi on 2/14/2010 12:00 AM EST


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  • simtex - Sunday, February 21, 2010 - link

    Excellent article ;) Insider info is always interesting, makes me a little more happy about my -50% AMD stocks, hopefully they will one go up again. Reply
  • NKnight - Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - link

    Great read. Reply
  • - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    you should write a (few)book(s); of course in multi eReader formats

  • - Saturday, February 20, 2010 - link

    Nvidia blames sales shortfall on TSMC">

    one dot you didnt connect in the article was AMD's foundry experience, which gives AMD a big advantage over NVIDIA; must have been an oversight?

  • truk007 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    These articles are why I keep coming here. The other sites could learn a lesson here.

  • dstigue1 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    I think the title says it all. But to add I also like the technical level. You can understand it with some cursory knowledge in graphics technology. Wonderfully written. Reply
  • sotoa - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Excellent work and very insightful indeed! Reply
  • juzz86 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    An amazing read Anand, I can wholeheartedly understand why you'd enjoy your dinners so much. One reader said that these were among the best articles on the site, and I have to agree. Inside looks into developments in the industry like this one are the real hidden gems of reviewing and analysis today. You should be very proud. Thanks again. Justin. Reply
  • talon262 - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Hell of an article...congrats to Anand for putting it out there and to the team at ATI for executing on some hard-learned lessons. Since I have a 4850 X2, I'm most likely going to sit Evergreen out (the only current ATI card that specs higher than my 4850 X2 (other than the 4970 X2) is Hemlock/5970 and Cypress/5870 would be a lateral move, more or less); while I run Win7, DX11 compatibilty is not a huge priority for me right this moment, but I will use the mid-range Evergreen parts for any systems I'll build/refurb over the next few months.

    Northern Islands, that has got me salivating...

    (Crossposted at Rage3D)
  • Peroxyde - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the great article. Do you have any info regarding ATI's commitment to the Linux platform? I used to see in Linux forums about graphics driver issues that ATI is the brand to avoid. Is it still the case? Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link
    for all things ATi + Linux
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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 ("> 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.
  • tomoyo - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Another awesome article about the real situation behind the hardware from you Anand! I was on the USS Hornet and wish I had talked to you, but it was a great time nonetheless. It's interesting the change in their thought process between the RV770 and RV870, I hope they keep the winning streak up for the next refresh cycle (which hopefully will stay on the market bulges). Reply
  • WT - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    *sigh* ^^^
    There's always one in the crowd.
    Take care in the fact that you are the only person who hasn't enjoyed this read.
  • MegaManX4 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Reminds me much of the Anglo-Saxon "documantaries", where it is always of tertiary relevance WHAT is actually discussed, but it is always of utmost interest how the responsible person "feels" about what he is just seeing, other than just stating the facts.

    There seems to be a huge crowd vowing for that kind of journalism, Whatever pleases the canaille.

    "Jedem das Seine" or "to each his own" then
  • MegaManX4 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    This was actually the worst article i have ever read at anandtech. I know that you Americans always strive for emotionally .Driven stories, but this outright borders on silly exaggeration.

    "Heroes of our Industry", what a Schmalz.

    Also, if one would take the real informations presented in that article, it wouldn't justify even a 2 Page Article, let alone that 11 Page behemoth.

    They are engineers, they do their jobs. Nothing more, nothing less.

    Greetings from Germany
  • blowfish - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    hmm, with an attitude like that you'll never get past middle management!

    Like most here, I loved this article. Anand obviously has the friendship and respect of some very senior players, and we were treated to some great insights into how things work at AMD ATI.

    As the reader, you can choose to read or not read the article, simple as that. Maybe you should up your medication.
  • MegaManX4 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    unreasonable polemic Reply
  • pmonti80 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    You are the one being unreasonable. This may not be a "scientifically written" article, but no one is claiming it to be. And that's the reason this article is so interesting. Reply
  • saiga6360 - Thursday, February 18, 2010 - link

    Apparently German engineers are just soulless robots. His confusion is understandable. Reply
  • BelardA - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I enjoyed this article even more than the RV770. I do recommend that everyone read that one too.

    Kind of shocking that Nvidia didn't use that info from the RV770 article to learn to NOT make big GPUs like the GTX 2xx. yeah yeah, it takes 2-4 years to design a chip.

    I thank ATI (and AMD) for not playing marketing games like Nvidia does... I think they have a bigger marketing department than engineers nowadays. They started with the GF2-MX 400 & GF4-MX cards (which were re-labeled updated GF2 cards that were not up to GF3 standards)... but the latest cluster-muck of Nvidia products is nothing but a mess. 8800 re-badged as a 9800 re-badged into the gts 250. Code-name of NVxx go to G80 to G92 to G100. The GT-1xx products that are actually low-end 9xxx products, same with most G200 & G300. I'm not going to be surprised when the GTX 285 gets renamed into the GTS450 at $200! I've seen people who bought the GTS250 and post on the internet "why isn't my new gts250 much faster than my old 8800GT"... because you bought a faster version of your card and thought it was something new. Wow, 3 years with 3 names for the same product, that is marketing.

    ATI does good with the entire 4000 series being DX 10.1 products and 5000s are DX11. (Does anyone really use HD-5xxx?) It doesn't feel like ATI is pulling our chain with their products.

    AMD should be learning from ATI, they are getting better with CPUs - 2 years late, but AMD CPUs are now faster than Core2 and compete well against the lower end intel i-confused model CPUs. There is still room for improvement which was recommend to them some time ago, but AMD is just going to come out with a new design for next year. But had AMD tweaked their CPUs a bit for another 10~20% performance, they'd be up there with i7s.

    I hope in the next ATI GPU, some form of Physics engine is added to go up against nvidia's PhsyX. But perhaps that'll be part of DX12... but Microsoft no longer supports Games for Windows.

    Actually, with more and more games going ONLY to consoles, I don't think the need for high-end gaming cards will be needed anymore in the next few years. If there are no games, who needs a $300 3D Gaming card?
  • Zink - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Would also like to say great article. I can't wait for new distributed computing cores come out optimized for ATI's architectures. Reply
  • ThomasS31 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link would be very interesting if nVidia tell us the story openly, what happened with this long delayed newly designed chip.

    Anand staff, please try and persuade them to tell all details! :)
  • XiZeL - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    dont want to look like a fanboy here but these stories just make me like ATI even more, make me feel like part of the familiy...

    why dont you guys ever write these about nVidia?
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    The only reason I'm able to write something like this is because of how open/honest/unmarkety Carrell Killebrew is. And how trusting AMD PR is that they allow me to talk to him without any sort of limitations in place.

    Until recently, there hasn't been a similar contact for me at NVIDIA. That has changed in the past few months and I've already reached out to him to see if he is willing to allow me the same opportunity to talk about Fermi.

    If I can make it happen, I will :)

    Take care,
  • XiZeL - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    thanks for the reply :)

    just for the record, as a costumer and someone who really likes technology, these kind of articles will help me take my final descision when bying a product...
    yeally looking forward to seeing the same from Nvidia and try to understand their aproach on building a chip :)

    thanks again
  • Mat3 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I really enjoy reading stuff like this. One request for the next time you're talking to ATI guys: can you ask them about Fast14 and why it didn't work for them? Reply
  • Iketh - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    6900 series = Pagan
    6800 series = Sarigan
    6700 series = Saipan
    6600/5500 series = Tinian
    6400 series = Rota

    Im probably way off lol
  • hyvonen - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Leaker! You'll be reported. Reply
  • XtremeOne - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Thank You for this beautiful and insightful article. Like many before me, i registered just to say that. Anandtech is one of the sites I fell very lucky to know about. Some of your articles are a bit "techie" for me, but this one is practically impossible to stop reading. :D Thank you Anand. Reply
  • Iketh - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    it's a shame there cant be more articles like this... having a close relationship with one company allows it every year or two, but there are many companies in this field which could produce many more stories... i feel Anand is slowly tapping into a gold mine Reply
  • jstall - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    This is a fantastic article, nice to get some insight into the the RD and thought process just as much as it is to see performance charts. Be nice to see a little more of this.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

  • 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".

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 :-) )
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • n7 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Another great story told.

    Thanx, Anand.
  • MrK6 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    What a great piece. Thank you for taking the time to put this together; it's one of the best tech articles I've read. Reply
  • archcommus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Haven't even read the whole thing yet but I can already say this is excellent. Thank you, Anand. Reply
  • indicator - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Hi all
    I felt I had to register here after reading this article , what a fantastic insight into everything that goes into making these GPU's and the dedication and talent it takes to be so creative.
    Great to see Anands enthusiasm for the industry come across in the article too
    I've been coming here and reading Anandtech since around the mid ninties I guess , it is a superb source of information , I look forward to every new article/review posted.
    Keep it up guys

  • d3x7r0 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Very very good article as usual in this website. AnandTech has been one of my favourite sites in the area for so long I don't even remember how I found out about the website, I actually believe I was still in 56k when I first came here.

    Anyway reading this article made me speculate on something (and please correct me if I'm wrong): If I got the timings right AMD-ATI should be working on the Northern Islands since the Radeon HD4xxx series days so the same issues they had with the HD5xxx series would be in the past. If this is true it means they know the HD4xxx were a success from the beginning of the process (or near it) and as such I can't but help it be even more excited to see what the next generation of ATI cards has in store.

    It's such a good time to be an ATI fan it's not even funny :D
  • Atlantis6000bc - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Those kind of article are the prime reason why I keep coming back to Anand....keep 'em coming
  • The13thWizard - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Thanks Anand! Thats the best IT article Ive ever read! Very toughtfull and interesting! Reply
  • arnavvdesai - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Really helps understand the industry a lot more. I really wish AMD would take a cue from its graphics division and really start hammering out what kind of chips do they want to build. However, they have their own set of challenges as Intel unlike NVIDIA is really really good on the foundry side as well.
    However, with gaming becoming more and more centered on consoles, does ATi have something cooking for the next generation of consoles? Would love Anand to ask them something about that. Do they believe that they will continue to sell enough cards to continue recouping their costs of designing and manufacturing them.
  • Vishnu Narayanan S - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    First of all, hats off to you for this amazing article.... Its these articles that bind us to the Anandtech website for years and years.

    I sincerely hope and request you to provide similar in-depth and "behind the scenes" stories from NVIDIA and Intel. Just to satisfy the FANbois... lol
  • fausto412 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    once i started reading i couldn't stop. for a geek like me this was almost like sex:) keep them coming! Reply
  • devene - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Just like many others, I've been a long time reader and I just couldn't carry on without leaving a comment:

    This has been an article, just like the RV770 one. It may not reveal many facts but is tremendously insightful and inspiring. Thank you for bringing this deeply hidden information out to the public and to the "fans". Please do everything in your power to continue this trend.

    Once again, thank you Anand,
  • medi01 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Germans say "lange Rede kurzer Sinn". So many pointless sentences that do not tell anything even remotely interesting. Reply
  • TGressus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Even the home team could not be sold on Eyefinity... Reply
  • William Gaatjes - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Fantastic article.

    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.

    Finally, someone accepting and using human nature.
    And see it works out...

    The fun part is that a requested functionality that is desired but can not make it within the expected timeframe, can still be worked on and can be ready for the next "bulge" in the market. This way you relieve your engineers form stress, you have the time to sort errors and bugs out, you have time to solve unforseen consequences that always happen( people can get sick, a bug in software, machines breaking down) and you have a feature for the market department to market to the consumer for the next iteration of the product. This way you can use the free market to build an in the end perfect device. It is all about balance. If you have to invest to much energy in situation a, you will have less energy for situation b in a certain timeframe. We are bound by laws of nature meaning there is no "perpetuum mobile" in this universe. Nothing comes for free...
  • aegisofrime - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Anand, you have taken an article that is really technical in nature, and turned it into something entertaining to read and yet informative for non-engineer types. My hats off to you. This is really the right balance of information and readability. If only all the Scientific Papers I have to read were written like this! Reply
  • dukeariochofchaos - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    i wonder if you will give fermi the same drama queen touch?

    i hope so.

  • Jamahl - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I don't think anyone wants to read nvidia's marketing department tell us how awesome PhysX and CUDA is again tbh. Reply
  • TGressus - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I suspect Fermi will be able to stand on it's technological innovation.
  • RJohnson - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    ...and it's exorbitant price/die size will exclude mere mortals from owning one. Reply
  • Spoelie - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    That depends entirely on the openness of NVIDIA on the subject, historically not one of their strong points.

    In fact ATi's take on NVIDIA's design process has been more informative than what has come out of NVIDIA itself.

    But here's to hoping..
  • AdiQue - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I fully subscribe to point raised by a few previous posters. Namely, the article being such a worthy read, it actually justifies the creation of an account for the sheer reason of expressing appreciation to your fantastic work, which does stand out in the otherwise well saturated market of technology blogs. Reply
  • geok1ng - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    "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"

    it would be a true concern if based on mere observation, but the hard facts are soo much terrible: AMD fired tons of ATI personnel, hence ATI drivers are years behind NVIDIA- we are still begging for centered timings on ATO cards, a feature that NVIDIA offers 6 generations past! ATI produces cards that are gameless. DirectX 10.1?! There was a single game with DirectX 10.1 support, and NVIDIA made the game developer REMOVE DirectX 10.1 features with a game patch that "increased" performance. DirectX 11?! ATI has to put money on driver developing team and spend TONS of cash in game developing.

    I would be a happier costumer if the raw performance of my 4870X2 was paired with the seamless driver experience of my previous 8800GT.

    And another game that AMD was too late is the netbook and ultralow voltage mobile market. A company with the expertise in integrated graphics and HTPCs GPUs with ZERO market share on this segment?! give me a break!
  • LordanSS - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Funny... after the heaps of problems I had with drivers, stability and whatnot with my old 8800GTS (the original one, 320MB), I decided to switch to ATI with a 4870. Don't regret doing that.

    My only gripe with my current 5870 is the drivers' and the stupid giant mouse cursor. The Catalyst 9.12 hotfix got rid of it, but it came back on the 10.1.... go figure. Other than that, haven't had problems with it and have been getting great performance.
  • blackbrrd - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    I think the reason he had issues with the X2 is that it's a dual card. I think most gfx card driver problems comes from dual cards in any configuration (dual, crossfire, sli)

    The reason you had issues with the 320mb card is that it had some real issues because of the half-memory. The 320mb cards where cards originally intended as gtx cards, but binned as gts cards that again got binned as 320mb cards instead of 640mb cards. Somehow Nvidia didn't test these cards good enough.
  • RJohnson - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Please get back under your bridge troll... Reply
  • Warren21 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Are you kidding me? Become informed before you spread FUD like this. I've been able to choose centered timings in my CCC since I've had my 2900 Pro back in fall 2007. Even today on my CrossFire setup you can still use it.

    As for your DX10.1 statement, thank NVIDIA for that. You must remember that THEY are the 600lb gorilla of the graphics industry - I fail to see how the exact instance you cite does anything other than prove just that.

    As for the DX11 statement, if NVIDIA had it today I bet you'd be singing a different tune. The fact that it's here today is because of Microsoft's schedule which both ATI and NVIDIA follow. NV would have liked nothing more than to have Fermi out in 2009, believe that.
  • Kjella - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    "AMD fired tons of ATI personnel, hence ATI drivers are years behind NVIDIA-"

    Wow, you got it backwards. The old ATI drivers sucked horribly, they may not be great now either but whatever AMD did or didn't do the drivers have been getting better, not worse.
  • Scali - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    It's a shame that AMD doesn't have its driver department firing on all cylinders like the hardware department is.
    The 5000-series are still plagued with various annoying bugs, such as the video playback issues you discovered, and the 'gray screen' bug under Windows 7.
    Then there's OpenCL, which still hasn't made it into a release driver yet (while nVidia has been winning over many developers with Cuda and PhysX in the meantine, while also offering OpenCL support in release drivers, which support a wider set of features than AMD, and better performance).
    And through the months that I've had my 5770 I've noticed various rendering glitches aswell, although most of them seem to have been solved with later driver updates.
    And that's just the Windows side. Linux and OS X aren't doing all that great either. FreeBSD isn't even supported at all.
  • hwhacker - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I don't log in and comment very often, but had to for this article.

    Anand, these type of articles (Rv770,'Rv870',and SSD) are beyond awesome. I hope it continues for Northern Islands and beyond. Everything from the RV870 jar tidbit to the original die spec to the SunSpotting info. It's great that AMD/ATi allows you to report this information, and that you have the journalistic chops to inquire/write about it. Can not provide enough praise. I hope Kendell and his colleagues (like Henri Richard) continue this awesome 'engineering honesty' PR into the future. The more they share, within understandable reason, the more I believe a person can trust a company and therefore support it.

    I love the little dropped hints BTW. Was R600 supposed to be 65nm but early TSMC problems cause it revert to 80nm like was rumored? Was Cypress originally planned as ~1920 shaders (2000?) with a 384-bit bus? Would sideport have helped the scaling issues with Hemlock? I don't know these answers, but the fact all of these things were indirectly addressed (without upsetting AMD) is great to see explored, as it affirms my belief I'm not the only one interested in them. It's great to learn the informed why, not just the unsubstantiated what.

    If I may preemptively pose an inquiry, please ask whomever at AMD when NI is briefed if TSMC canceling their 32nm node and moving straight to 28nm had anything to do with redesigns of that chip. There are rumors it caused them to rethink what the largest chip should be, and perhaps revert back to what the original Cypress design (as hinted in this article?) for that chip, causing a delay from Q2-Q3 to Q3-Q4, not unlike the 30-45 day window you mention about redesigning Cypress. I wonder if NI was originally meant to be a straight shrink?
  • hwhacker - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I meant Carrell above. Not quite sure why I wrote Kendell. Reply
  • papapapapapapapababy - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Ok, ok, great read, but i have to hate a bit, 1,2,3 GO! hey Carrell here is my top priority feature for your next PRS

    1 -Drivers that dont suck ass-

    "The performance was still a problem and the RV740 was mostly lost as a product" ...

    the fuk? the 4770 is the BEST card i ever had, PERIOD. cheap, fast, cool, the perfect RV770, thanks !

    bla bla Carrell "He’s single handedly responsible for getting Eyefinity included in the Evergreen stack"

    Meh? who gives a sht. , Carrell give me console like gpu scaling, so we can finally play crysis at 1080p, another one for that PRS

    "Carrell went to David Glenn, head of software engineering at ATI and asked"

    drivers that dont suck, please?

    " There were also game compatibility concerns that made ATI not interested in the software approach"

    Lol i wonder why? i think i know why. Hardware, hardware, what about the software,Carrell?

    ok, thats it. not much to complain this time, flawless job ati guys

  • f0d - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    long time reader/first time posting
    ive never felt the need to post anything but with this article i really wanted to say:
    "thank you"
    the insights we get in these articles is amazing (i also read the first when it was done)
    i like the "no technical or maketing bs" writing of this story and all the little pieces of information like with the eyefinity story and sideport
    please do as much of these type of stories as possible - it must be difficult to talk to the right people and get the right information out of them and also be allowed to publish it but it makes a great read
  • Robert Kooijman - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Awesome article Anand!

    Also specially created an account to inform you how impressed I am with articles like these. A real treat these behind the scenes stories in non-marketing language. Keep 'm coming, compliments!
  • - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link


    when do the (tech industry) book's come out??
  • Kryten - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Informative, interesting, inspirational, edifying and very well written. Here's hoping for more research and articles like this. Reply
  • greenguy - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Hi Anand, I've been reading your stuff for 3 years or so, I just created an account to tell you how awesome that article was. Very nice work. This sort of content is why I read Anandtech. (My other favorite articles have been the SSD articles and the i5-750 article.)

    I especially like to hear about AMD/ATI - I like having a serious competitor to Intel out there, and I commend AMD for opening up their graphics card documentation. I hope that they continue to fund the Linux driver development (both open and closed source). I also hope their CPU division can put the heat on Intel again, especially on the low power front.
  • at80eighty - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Anand I was just telling someone yesterday how I wish you guys got more popularity for the different approach you guys have

    between articles like this and the new beta Bench tab - I think I'm really looking forward to your proposed changes you promised this year
  • insurgent - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I had a really great time reading the article, thanks! Reply
  • Markstar - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Also a big thank you from me for this wonderful article.

    It's exactly these kind of stories that I hope to find here every morning when I start the day.
  • JimmiG - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Well the late changes would explain why the RV870 isn't "perfect" like the 770 was. At every price point except at the high-end, it delivers more features, but less or similar performance as the previous generation. For example the 5770 is slower than the 4870, the 5750 is about the same speed and price as the 4850 and so on. Also at the high-end it's more expensive than the 4800-series ever were - the 4870 was only $299 at launch, the 5870 is still at least $399. By this month in 2009, the 4870 was down to $249! Reply
  • Dudler - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Your reasoning is wrong. The 57xx is a performance segment down from the 48xx segment. By your reasoning the 5450 should be quicker than the last gen 4870X2. The 5870 should be compared to the 4870, the 5850 to 4850 and so on.

    Regarding price, the article sure covers it, the 40nm process was more expensive than TSMC told Amd, and the yield problems factored in too. Can't blame Amd for that can we?

    And finally, don't count out that Fermi is absent to the party. Amd can charge higher prices when there is no competition. At the moment, the 5-series has a more or less monopoly in the market. Considering this, I find their prices quite fair. Don't forget nVidia launched their Gtx280 at $637....
  • JimmiG - Friday, February 19, 2010 - link

    "Your reasoning is wrong. The 57xx is a performance segment down from the 48xx segment. "

    Well I compared the cards across generations based on price both at launch and how the price developed over time. The 5850 and 4850 are not in the same price segment of their respective generation. The 4850 launched at $199, the 5850 at $259 but quickly climbed to $299.

    The 5770 launched at $159 and is now at $169, which is about the same as a 1GB 4870, which will perform better in DX9 and DX10. Model numbers are arbitrary and at the very best only useful for comparing cards within the same generation.

    The 5k-series provide a lot of things, but certainly not value. This is the generation to skip unless you badly want to be the first to get DX11 or you're running a really old GPU.
  • just4U - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    and they are still selling the 275,285 etc for a hefty chunk of change. I've often considered purchasing one but the price has never been right and mail in rebates are a "PASS" or "NO THANKS" for many of us rather then a incentive.

    I haven't seen the mail-ins for AMD products much I hope their reading this and shy away from that sort of sales format. To many of us get the shaft and never recieve our rebates anyway.
  • BelardA - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Also remind people... the current GTX 285 is about $400 and usually slower than the $300 5850. So ATI is NOT riping off people with their new DX11 products. And looking at the die-size drawings, the RV870 is a bit smaller than the GT200... and we all now that FERMI is going to be another HUGE chip.

    The only disappointment is that the 5750 & 5770 are not faster than the 4850/70 which used to cost about $100~120 when inventory was good. Considering that the 5700 series GPUs are smaller... Hell, even the 4770 is faster than the 5670 and costs less. Hopefully this is just the cost of production.

    But I think once the 5670 is down to $80~90 and the 5700s are $100~125 - they will be more popular.
  • coldpower27 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    nVidia made a conscious decision, not to fight the 5800 Series, with the GTX 200 in terms of a price war. Hence why their price remain poor value. They won't win using a large Gt200b die vs the 5800 smaller die.

    Another note to keep in mind is that the 5700 Series, also have the detriment of being higher in price due to ATi moving the pricing scale backup a bit with the 5800 Series.

    I guess a card that draws much less power then the 4800's, and is close to the performance of those cards is a decent win, just not completely amazing.
  • MonkeyPaw - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Actually, the 4770 series was meant to be a suitable performance replacement for the 3870. By that scheme, the 5770 should have been comperable to the 4870. I think we just hit some diminishing returns from the 128bit GDDR5 bus. Reply
  • nafhan - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    It's the shaders not the buswidth. Bandwidth is bandwidth however you accomplish it. The rv8xx shaders are slightly less powerful on one to one basis than the rv7xx shaders are. Reply
  • LtGoonRush - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    The point is that an R5770 has 128-bit GDDR5, compared to an R4870's 256-bit GDDR5. Memory clock speeds can't scale to make up the difference from cutting the memory bus in half, so overall the card is slower, even though it has higher compute performance on the GPU. The GPU just isn't getting data from the memory fast enough. Reply
  • Targon - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    But you still have the issue of the 4870 being the high end from its generation, and trying to compare it to a mid-range card in the current generation. It generally takes more than one generation before the mid range of the new generation is able to beat the high end cards from a previous generation in terms of overall performance.

    At this point, I think the 5830 is what competes with the 4870, or is it the 4890? In either case, it will take until the 6000 or 7000 series before we see a $100 card able to beat a 4890.
  • coldpower27 - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    Yeah we haven't seen ATi/nVidia achieved the current gen mainstream faster then the last gen high end. Bandwidth issues are finally becoming apparent.

    6600 GT > 5950 Ultra.
    7600 GT > 6800 Ultra.

    But the 8600 GTS, was only marginally faster then the 7600 GT and nowhere near 7900 GTX, it took the 8800 GTS 640 to beat the 7900 GTX completely, and the 800 GTS 320 beat it, in the large majority of scenarios, due to frame buffer limitation.

    The 4770 slots somewhere between the 4830/4850. However, that card was way later then most of the 4000 series. Making it a decent bit faster then the 3870, which made more sense since the jump from 3870 to 4870 was huge, sometimes nearly even 2.5x could be seen nearly, given the right conditions.

    4670 was the mainstream variant and it was, most of the performance of the 3800 Series, it doesn't beat it though, more like trades blows or is slower in general.
  • wlee15 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    The USS Hornet is a carrier not a battleship.
    For shame Anand For Shame!
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    wow - you're totally right, I can't believe I made that mistake. Looks like Ryan or Jarred caught it shortly after it went live though, whew :)

    And yes, for the record, I know the difference between an aircraft carrier and a battleship :)

    Take care,
  • just4U - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link


  • Sahrin - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Thank you - I was worried I'd be the only one to point this one out.

    Thank you Anand! This stuff is incredible. Just a few weeks ago I was looking back on the RV770 article and wishing it could be done again.

    Kudos as well are due to AMD's PR guys - for having the courage to let the engineers sit down with the press, instead of needing to be there as minders. I guarantee you that every single time, the same story told by a marketer of a product and by the guy whose passion created the product will be a thousand times more effectively conveyed by the engineer. Marketers have value - I'm not trying to write them off.

    I don't know what I can do for AT and AMD to thank them for making articles like this happen. Aside from buying Cypress and being a reader - but if there is anything we can do to ensure these articles keep coming (bombard Meyer with Faxes?) let me be the first to sign up. (And maybe if we could get access to AMD's CPU guys as well, to provide a balance to the excellent information we get from Intel).
  • Dianoda - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    This article was a real treat, keep 'em coming... Reply
  • dzx - Monday, February 22, 2010 - link

    I created an account just to give thanks for such a well written, informative article. I can sense you have just as much passion for the technology as the engineers and architects who create it. Simply a pleasure to read. Reply
  • gralex - Friday, February 26, 2010 - link

    Thanx. I have nothing more to add that hasn't been said already in the above comments, just thanks.

    As for ATI vs. NVIDIA, maybe i'm believing the hype but AMD seems awfully conservative at the moment. It's totally working for them, of course, but I'm liking the whole CUDA, Tegra2, Ion, Optimus momentum Nvidia might finally be gaining right now. Obviously they messed it up with a ton of rebranding making a 5xxx purchase a no-brainer right now... I just LOVE the way Nvidia was looking cornered and thought up a number of ways to get out. I hope these two keep up the healthy rivalry for many years to come, for ALL of us:-)
  • phaxmohdem - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Wow. This was perhaps the first article I've read in a long time I read cover-to-cover, and couldn't put down. AT is my favorite tech review site, but I find myself reading the first two pages or so, skipping around to various benchmark pages, then reading the summary. This piece was remarkably intriguing and thought provoking. I look forward to the RV970 story, or perhaps better yet, the GF100 story.

    Keep em coming!
  • gimmeausername - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Did you just say RV970?

    I think you've just made some folks at AMD flip out by using that code name. :D
  • coolhardware - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    As others have mentioned, articles like this one really put Anandtech head and shoulders above the competition. It is so very interesting to find out the real world story behind the video cards. What a wonderful Valentine's Day treat :-).

    Thanks for all your hard work Anand, I really appreciate it!
  • Dudler - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Whoa... Just Whoa.
    Very insightful and interesting.

    Amd moving to GF next generation and Norther Islands this year?


    Thx Anand :)
  • carlhenry - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    i really loved the eyefinity being so 'mission impossible'. awesome article! Reply
  • Patrick Wolf - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    The first rule of SunSpot: You don't talk about SunSpot. :D

  • mubeen - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    Such an informative article Mr. Anand. Really appreciate your efforts. Reply
  • just4U - Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - link

    I agree it's a great article, nice to see these ones pop up from time to time. It don't really matter to me if it's nvidia, amd or intel.. just having a more insightful read is refreshing. Reply
  • DearSX - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I really do a like article like this. I wonder how old others are cause I'm 25 and I did not even notice how much reading things like this mattered. Its more important than buying something or performance figures imo. Reply
  • Paulman - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I, too, will second that. Really cool. :P Reply
  • MrSpadge - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Many thanks for this interesting article and especially the in-dpeth information about TSMC, the process and how ATI deals with it. Thanks to you, Anand, for writing it and thanks to the good guys at AMD for sharing this information!

    Beyond excellence :)
  • hyvonen - Monday, February 15, 2010 - link

    And NVidia's call for "zero defects, zero variability" was jaw-dropping. Do they have any idea how silicon is manufactured?

    Unbelievable cluelessness... with this attitude, they are out of business in the next two years. They are completely unprepared to harness the potential in the latest process nodes.

    Meanwhile, it also sounds like TSMC is way over its head in this - uncharacteristic screw-ups with the chamber matching, bad leakage etc. Not to mention the choice to delay HKMG until 28nm (and having to kill 32nm because of that). GF is going to eat them for lunch, and take over the foundry business.
  • ET - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Indeed. One of the more interesting articles I've read in a while. Reply
  • cjb110 - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    Agreed, excellent article. Well written and informative, coverage of the other aspects of the industry is always welcome. Reply
  • Bull Dog - Sunday, February 14, 2010 - link

    I'll second that. 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.

    You have my heartfelt thanks Anand.

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