AMD's "Small-Die" Strategy

We outlined AMD's "new" GPU strategy in our Radeon HD 4850 preview article, but in short AMD has committed to designing GPUs for the mainstream $199 - $299 segment and simply using CrossFire (multi-GPU) to address higher end markets. NVIDIA on the other hand will continue to make very large monolithic GPUs in order to continue to push the industry forward. Both approaches are appreciated and necessary, they simply target different markets.

In our GT200 review we highlighted the fact that NVIDIA had built an extremely large, highly parallel, microprocessor. With 1.4 billion transistors and a die size of around 576 mm^2, NVIDIA's GT200 is nothing short of huge.

The table on the previous page shows that AMD's RV770, despite being aimed at mainstream gamer price points ($199 - $299), is also very large. At 956M transistors, the RV770 has 44% more transistors than RV670 and 68% the transistor count of NVIDIA's GT200. We threw the RV770 into NVIDIA's die size comparison just for kicks:

Based on what we know of NVIDIA's die size, this should be to scale

Even AMD's die, although designed to be svelte and affordable, is big - especially for being fabbed at TSMC. NVIDIA still holds the crown for largest die fabbed at TSMC, but AMD shows us that even a more mainstream approach still requires tons of transistors. As we mentioned in our 4850 preview:

"A pair of RV770s, AMD's new GPU, end up consuming more power than a single GT200 - despite being built on a smaller 55nm process.

A pair of these RV770s only costs $400 compared to $650 for a single GT200, but I suspect that part of that is due to differences in manufacturing process. If NVIDIA hadn't been so risk averse with the GT200 and built it on 55nm (not that I'm advocating it, simply posing a hypothetical), the cost differences would be smaller - if not in favor of NVIDIA since GT200 is built on a single card.

When the smoke clears, AMD's strategy is to simply build a GPU for the masses and attempt to scale it up and down. While NVIDIA is still building its GPUs the same way it has for decades, starting very large and scaling down.

AMD isn't taking a radically different approach to building and designing GPUs than NVIDIA, it's simply building one market segment lower."

We've got a lot of discussion on efficiency between AMD and NVIDIA coming up in this article, although AMD's die is noticeably smaller than NVIDIA's - as you've already seen with the Radeon HD 4850 - there are many areas where RV770 can go toe-to-toe with NVIDIA's mammoth GT200.

Index Building a RV770
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  • jALLAD - Wednesday, July 9, 2008 - link

    well I am looking forward to a single card setup. SLI or CF is beyond the reach of my pockets. :P

  • Grantman - Friday, July 4, 2008 - link

    Thank you very much for including the 8800gt sli figures in your benchmarks. I created an account especially so I could thank Anand Lal Shimpi & Derek Wilson as I have found no other review site including 8800gt sli info. It is very interesting to see the much cheaper 8800gt sli solution beating the gtx 280 on several occasions.
  • Grantman - Friday, July 4, 2008 - link

    When I mentioned "no other review site including 8800gt sli info" I naturally meant in comparison with the gtx280, gx2 4850 crossfire etc etc.

    Thanks again.
  • ohodownload - Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - link
  • DucBertus - Wednesday, July 2, 2008 - link


    Nice article. Could you please add the amount of graphics memory on the cards to the "The Test" page of the article. The amount of memory matters for the performance and (not unimportant) the price of the cards...

    Cheers, DucBertus.
  • hybrid2d4x4 - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    Long-time reader here that finally decided to make an account. First off, thanks for the great review Anand and Derek, and hats off to you guys for following up to the comments on here.
    One thing that I was hoping to see mentioned in the power consumption section is if AMD has by any chance implemented their PowerXpress feature into this generation (where the discrete card can be turned off when not needed in favor of the more efficient on-board video- ie: HD3200)? I recall reading that the 780G was supposed to support this kind of functionality, but I guess it got overlooked. Have you guys heard if AMD intends to bring it back (maybe in their 780GX or other upcoming chipsets)? It'd be a shame if they didn't, seeing as how they were probably the first to bring it up and integrate it into their mobile solutions, and now even nVidia has their own version of it (Hybrid Power, as part of HybridSLI) on the desktop...
  • AcornArmy - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    I honestly don't understand what Nvidia was thinking with the GTX 200 series, at least at their current prices. Several of Nvidia's own cards are better buys. Right now, you can find a 9800 GX2 at Pricewatch for almost $180 less than a GTX 280, and it'll perform as well as the 280 in almost all cases and occasionally beat the hell out of it. You can SLI two 8800 GTs for less than half the price and come close in performance.

    There really doesn't seem to be any point in even shipping the 280 or 260 at their current prices. The only people who'll buy them are those who don't do any research before they buy a video card, and if someone's that foolish they deserve to get screwed.
  • CJBTech - Sunday, June 29, 2008 - link

    Hey iamap, with the current release of HD 4870 cards, all of the manufacturers are using the reference ATI design, so they should all be pretty much identical. It boils down to individual manufacturer's warranty and support. Sapphire, VisionTek, and Powercolor have all been great for me over the years, VisionTek is offering a lifetime warranty on these cards. I've had poor experiences with HIS and Diamond, but probably wouldn't hesitate to get one of these from either of those manufactures on this particular card (or the HD 4850) because they are the same card, ATI reference.
  • Paladin1211 - Saturday, June 28, 2008 - link

    Now that the large monolithic, underperforming chip is out, leaving AMD free to grab market share, I'm so excited at what to happen. As nVidia's strategy goes, they're now scaling down the chip. But pardon me, cut the GTX 280 in half and then prices it at $324.99? That sounds so crazy!

    Anyone remembers the shock treatment of AMD with codename "Thunder"? DAAMIT has just opened "a can of whoop ass" on nVidia!
  • helldrell666 - Friday, June 27, 2008 - link

    Anand tech why didnt you use and amd 790FX board to bench the radeon cards instead of using an nvidia board for both nvidia and ATI cards.It would be more accurate to bench those cards on compatible boards .
    I think those cards would have worked better on an amd board based on the radeon express 790fx chipset.

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