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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  • n7 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    These kind of articles are why i love AT.

    Fantastic read, thanx!
    Reply
  • glynor - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Thanks Anand. It is things just like this that have kept me coming back for years and year. Great work! Reply
  • jah128 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Really good article, one of the best I've read here. Reply
  • doittoit - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Don't forget what rv770 did to GTX 280. Made it completely irrelevent. 2 x 4850 made it so no-one would ever bother with nvidia's "monster". Now they just have to get over the hump on driver support. Down with NVIDIA!! Reply
  • Element81 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Best article I've read on your site in a long time. I crave all the performance benchmarks and reviews of new products but the back story behind the creation of the RV770 is amazing. I will be building myself a new rig very soon and I've been following hardware religiously in the last few months to help me make my decision. A new 4850 or 4870 will def end up in my new build. Reply
  • BernardP - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Thanks for this great article. Well-written and full of new information. Reply
  • truk007 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    This article is the best I've read on any tech site. Loved it! I hope Anandtech has more behind-the-scenes stories like this again, and I also hope that companies continue to give these types of interviews. It was a great journalistic piece that made the company all that much more human. Thanks! Reply
  • rwei - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    I've been reading for 2-3 years and was too lazy to comment...but I found this article compelling enough to create an account just to say how much I liked it =)

    For a student studying both compsci and business/mgmt, the dual focus on engineering and business challenges was very interesting. Though there was a very obvious potential for a "rah-rah ATI!" bias given the nature of the interview, especially when discussing R600.
    Reply
  • WeaselITB - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    There must be echos in here, because I'm adding my words to the mix. In the roughly-10 years that I've been reading AnandTech (yes, I remember reading the Celeron "launch" article and the whole celery jokes that went with it), I must say that this is one of the best articles I've read here.

    It's articles like this that keep me coming back to AT all these years. Everyone and their dog can benchmark and put up pretty graphs (no offense, Derek), but it's the meaty articles like this one that give AT that leg-up over the competition.

    Thanks, Anand, for an awesome ten years, and here's to ten more!
    Reply
  • Goty - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    On page 2, when discussing the Radeon 8500, you have to remember that the 8500's intended competition was the GeForce 3 series, against which it was fairly competitive (especially at the end of its life). ATI never really released a product to compete with the GeForce 4 cards. Reply

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