The Beginning: The Shot Heard Around the World

It all started back in 2001 when ATI, independent at the time, was working on the R300 GPU (Radeon 9700 Pro). If you were following the industry at all back then, you’d never forget the R300. NVIDIA was steadily gaining steam and nothing ATI could do was enough to dethrone the king. The original Radeon was a nice attempt but poor drivers and no real performance advantage kept NVIDIA customers loyal. The Radeon 8500 wasn’t good at all; there was just no beating NVIDIA’s GeForce4, the Ti 4200 did well in the mainstream market and the Ti 4600 was king of the high end.

While ATI was taking punches with the original Radeon and Radeon 8500, internally the company decided that in order to win the market - it had to win the halo. If ATI could produce the fastest GPU, it would get the brand recognition and loyalty necessary to not only sell those high end GPUs but also lower end models at cheaper price points. The GPU would hit the high end first, but within the next 6 - 12 months we’d see derivatives for lower market segments. One important takeaway is that at this point, the high end of the market was $399 - keep that in mind.

With everyone at ATI thinking that they had to make the fastest GPU in the world in order to beat NVIDIA, the successor to the Radeon 8500 was going to be a big GPU. The Radeon 8500 was built on a 0.15-micron manufacturing process and had around 60M transistors; R300 was going to be built on the same process, but with 110M transistors - nearly twice that of the 8500 without a die shrink.

Its competition, the GeForce4 was still only a 63M transistor chip and even NVIDIA didn’t dare to build something so big on the 150nm node, the GF4 successor would wait for 130nm.

We all know how the story unfolded from here. The R300 was eventually branded the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro and mopped the floor with the GeForce4. What Intel did to AMD with Conroe, ATI did to NVIDIA with R300 - back in 2002.

The success with R300 solidified ATI’s strategy: in order to beat NVIDIA, it had to keep pushing the envelope for chip size. Each subsequent GPU would have to be bigger and faster at the high end. Begun these GPU wars had.

Index Re-evaluating Strategy, Creating the RV770 in 2005


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  • pastyface - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Great job on the article! Generally today's reviews consist of me quickly going to the benchmarks portion and seeing if a new game was used or if any screwy results came out. This article however was much different. You had my attention from the get go and I didn't take a break in my reading until the whole article was finished.

    It is a real shame that so much of the work in reviews are overlooked in favor of simple graphs but this article was different and I thank you for that.
  • MarchTheMonth - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    I really enjoyed the read, and it really gives me an appreciation for the card i just happen to get (hd 4850).

    I may not speak for others, but these are the kind of articles I like to read, the kind that really explain in detail what's really happening. Anand, you did an excellent job of giving perspective (be in ATI's shoes in 2007 when nvidia was doing this...etc) to the article that gave definition between the "so obvious" hindsight we have now to the "this is suicide!" view that it must have seemed like to be there in 2005.

    Now, for my own counter-perspective, I can understand why AMD, Intel, and nVidia may not do this very often. On the flip side of the coin, I'm not a mainstream user, and I don't exactly build 1000s of computers that ATI can sell. Bottom line speaking, a story that's interesting to me, I don't bring them $$$$. And on top of that, this story is also giving a lot of info to the competition, which can be at best a double edged sword, and at worst too much information to be self-destructive.
  • belladog - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Excellent article, we love this stuff. Benchmarks gets a bit boring after a while.

    I wonder what affect if any, the revelations about price fixing(between ATI and Nvidia) had on the pricing of the RV770 GPU's??

    I mean if the lawyers hadnt broken up the party maybe the 4870 could have been $80-$100 dearer?

    Anyway, interesting article.
  • Griswold - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    The price fixing took part before AMD bought ATI. And it would be safe to assume that it stopped at the latest at that time, but it probably did stop well before that (the earliest evidence is an e-mail from 2002). AMD should know better than to point the finger at Intel and do something that is equally wrong in another segment of their business. Reply
  • feelingshorter - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Keep up the good work and never let the haters get you down! There's always people b!tching when they don't know how hard it is to write well (any moron can "write"). But its good stories like this that has been the bread and butter of Anandtech.

    The pressure of deadlines, writer's block, or not having enough to write. I appreciate what you do and I know its stressful at times. Others can sympathize but I can empathize having been an amateur journalist myself (in high school and at the university newspaper).
  • san1s - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    If this article was about an nvidia GPU then the ati fanboys would proclaim it reeks of bias.
    good article though anamdtech
  • Adul - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    That was one of the best article I read in a while. It was very enjoyable to get an idea of how things are worked out years in advanced of when the product launches.

    This was a huge gamble on AMD/ATI part. My hats off to them for having the balls to do something different.
  • dani31 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Speaking of AMD, it would have been nice to have more insight on how the acquisition of ATI fitted in the design process.

    But this topic seems to have been deliberately omitted in this article.
  • JonnyDough - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Maybe that's because the interviewed the ATI chip designers and not the AMD head haunchos? Just a thought. Reply
  • lifeobry - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Really fascinating article. The amount of work put into creating these cards and the competition between the two companies is compelling stuff. Reply

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