AMD Announces ATI Mobility Radeon 5000 Seriesby Jarred Walton on January 7, 2010 12:01 AM EST
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ATI 5000 Series Specifications
With our introduction out of the way, let's take a look at ATI's new mobile parts. The big news of course is that these are the first DirectX 11 mobile graphics chips, just as the desktop counterparts were the first DirectX 11 GPUs. Despite the similarity in naming, all of the mobile parts are essentially one step back from the desktop parts, not just in clock speeds but also in stream processors. Here's the quick rundown of specifications and features, with the NVIDIA's GTX 280M tossed in for comparison.
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Overall, the new 5000 models should boost performance by around 30% relative to the last generation ATI mGPUs, at least in theory. They have more stream processors, and higher clock speeds in most cases, plus other enhancements. One of the enhancements is something that's going to be up to individual manufacturers to utilize: GDDR5. GDDR5 sends four bits of data per clock cycle compared to two bits for GDDR3/2/1, and it also runs at lower voltages. The problem is GDDR5 costs more, and with support for GDDR3 it's likely that many manufacturers will stick with GDDR3 in order to save money in the short-term. Towards the end of the year, ATI informed us that they expect pricing to become more or less equal, at which point we should see a strong move towards GDDR5. Without the newer memory, the performance gains in some titles are going to be lower due to memory bottlenecks.
Also worth pointing out is the HD 4860, a product we can find on AMD's website complete with specifications, and a product that was announced back in March 2009. What makes the HD 4860 "interesting"? To our knowledge, it never shipped in any laptops, and with the 5000 series it probably never will. The reason we point this out is that today's announcement does not necessarily guarantee hardware anytime soon. Hopefully we will see laptops with the new graphics chips appear in the next few weeks, but particularly on the high-end GPUs it can take months before anyone picks them up. As another example, the mobile HD 4870 only appeared in a couple laptops: the ASUS W90 and the Alienware M17x. And now it's apparently EOL. So we have to raise the question of how long it will take before we start seeing laptops with 5000 series parts (particularly the 5800 series), and only time will give us an answer.
ATI touts several features as being noteworthy, including GDDR5 and DirectX 11. One feature seems rather out of place, however: Eyefinity. While it can be pretty cool to run multiple monitors on a desktop system, we really have our doubts that many people will use up to six displays with any laptop. Nevertheless, that's exactly what the 5800 and 5700/5600 series support (in theory). Naturally, it would be up to the laptop manufacturer to provide six display outputs, which seems highly unlikely. (Three digital outputs is more than sufficient, we think.) That's still leaves GDDR5, which we've discussed, and DirectX 11. We'll talk more about DX11 on the next page, but there's one other item to mention: power saving features.
TDP for the various products hasn't really changed, but that doesn't mean power characteristics are the same as the 4000 series. In the above chart, we've listed the maximum TDP of the CPU followed by the TDP of the entire GPU subsystem (i.e. with RAM and voltage regulators). ATI informed us that they improved engine and memory clock scaling as well as clock gating, bringing about significant improvements in power requirements. At full load, these improvements aren't going to be as noticeable, but idle power draw should be significantly lower than on previous discrete mGPUs. ATI claims a 4X performance per Watt improvement when comparing the HD 5750 to the HD 3650. One word of caution however is that optimal idle power requirements apparently need GDDR5, which allows better control over changing the memory clocks. As mentioned above, many of the midrange parts are likely to stick with GDDR3 until later this year.
ATI also let us know that they have worked on IGP to discrete GPU switching times, which should be 30~40% faster (depending on manufacturer implementation). Ever since we first saw a hybrid GPU solution in the ASUS N10JC, we have hailed the technology as a feature that every gaming laptop needs to have. We also discussed the feature on the Alienware m15x, and it helped make the ASUS UL80Vt our favorite current laptop. So far, uptake has been slow, but things appear to be improving with the launch of Windows 7. Lenovo, Sony, and others are pursuing hybrid solutions, and with Win7 supporting multiple GPU drivers (Vista and XP could only enable one display driver at a time) the way is paved for the future. We still haven't tested an ATI-based laptop with hybrid graphics, however; so far the only hybrid solutions we've tested use NVIDIA GPUs, but maybe the 5000 series can change that.