Building a GPU for the Masses

AMD put up this graph at its recent Financial Analyst Day:

The performance segment of the desktop CPU market is only about 7% of the pie and although it generates a disproportionately large amount of revenue it’s neither the biggest segment nor the biggest revenue generator in the market. That would be the mainstream segment.

ATI realized much of the same thing back in 2005. These high end GPUs were getting more and more expensive, while R300 tipped the scales at $399 over the coming years we’d see GPUs hit $499, $599 and go north of $600 at launch. The higher prices were due to increasing die sizes and techniques such as harvesting, ensuring that regardless of how big the GPU, revenues were protected.

A $399 R300 was close enough to the mainstream price points that ATI was able to scale it down months later to address other markets, but these days the time between the high end GPU introduction and the mainstream revisions of it has increased to 6 - 9 months. We still don’t have a mainstream derivative of NVIDIA’s GT200 architecture and chances are that we won’t until around 9 months after its introduction. With the GeForce GTX 280 launching at $600, for it to take 9 months to make a $200 derivative is doing the market a disservice in ATI’s eyes.

It was time to refocus. Instead of tailoring to the needs of the high end, ATI wanted to make a product that would be the best in the $200 - $300 range. To do so would mean that it would have to reverse the strategy that made it successful to begin with, and hope that somehow NVIDIA wouldn’t follow suit.

Re-evaluating Strategy, Creating the RV770 in 2005 The Bet, Would NVIDIA Take It?
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  • MrSpadge - Saturday, December 06, 2008 - link

    Exactly what I was thinking! That's why I got a 8500LE back then, when Geforce 4 was not in (public) sight yet. Reply
  • FireSnake - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    ... which one is Anand (on the picture at the beginning of the article)?

    I always wondered how he looks like ... I guess the one on the right.
    Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I've had Anandtech as my home page for 5 years and I've read almost every article since (and even some of the older ones). This is by far one of your greatest works!

    Thanks
    Reply
  • hellstrider - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Kudos to Anand for such a great article, extremely insightful. I may even go out and purchase AMD stock now :)

    I love AMD even when it’s on the bottom, I own 780G + X2 + hd4850, in hopes that Deneb (or AM3 processors for that matter) will come in time to repeat the success of rv770 launch, at which point I will upgrade my obsolete X2 and have a sweet midrange machine.

    My only concern is that Nvidia is looking at all this smirking and planning an onslaught with the 55nm refresh. There is a very “disturbing” article at Xbitlabs that Nvidia is stock-piling the 55nm GT200 parts; seems like that’s something they would do – start selling those soon and undercut 4800 series badly.
    I’m just a concerned hd4850 owner and I don’t want to see my card obsolete within couple of months. I don’t really see AMD’s answer to 55nm GT200 in such short period of time?!?!

    Any thoughts?
    Reply
  • Goty - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I don't think you'll have to worry too badly about the 55nm G200s. NVIDIA won't drop prices much, if at all; they're already smarting from the price drops enacted after the RV770 launch. There's also the fact that the 4850 isn't in the same market space as any of the G200 cards, so they're not really competitive anyhow. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I always imagined designing GPUs would be very stressful given you're trying to guess things years in advance, but this inside look at how things are done was very informative.

    On GDDR5, it's interesting to read that ATI was pushing so hard for this technology and they felt it was their only hope for the RV770. What about GDDR4? I thought ATI was a big supporter of it too and was the first to implement it. I'm pretty sure Samsung announced GDDR4 that could run at 3.2GBit/s in 2006 which isn't far from the 3.6GBit/s GDDR5 used in the 4870, and 4GBit/s GDDR4 was available in 2007. I guess there are still power savings to be had from GDDR5, but performance-wise I don't think it would have been a huge loss if GDDR5 had been delayed and ATI had to stick with GDDR4.

    And another interesting point in your article was definitely about the fate of the 4850. You report that ATI felt that the 4870 was perfectly specced and wasn't changed. I guess that meant they were always targeting the 750MHz core frequency that it launched with. Yet ATI was originally targeting the 4850 at 500MHz clock. With the 4870 being clocked 50% faster, I think it should be obvious to anyone just looking at the clock speed that there would be a huge performance gap between the 4850 and 4870. I believe the X1800XL and X1800XT had a similarly large performance gap. Thankfully Dave Baumann convinced them to clock the 4850 up to a more reasonable 625MHz core.

    One thing that I feel was missing from the article was how the AMD acquisition effected the design of the RV770. Perhaps there wasn't much change or the design was already set so AMD couldn't have changed things even if they wanted to, but they must have had an opinion. AMD was probably nervous that they bought ATI at it's height when the R580 was out and top, but once acquired, the R600 came out and underperformed. Would be interesting to know what AMD's initial opinion of ATI's small die, non-top tier targetted strategy was although it now seems to be more consistent with AMD's CPU strategy since they aren't targeting the high-end there anymore either.
    Reply
  • hooflung - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    The final frontier market share wise is to steal a major vendor like eVGA. If they can get an eVGA, BFG or XFX to just sell boards with their warranties AMD would be really dominant. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    The best thing I've ever read on a tech site. This is why you're better than THG.

    Only one typo! It was a "to" when it should have been a "too."

    Chalk one up for the red team. This makes my appreciation for AMD rise even more. Anyone willing to disclose internal perspectives about the market like this is a team with less secrecy that I will support with my hard earned cash. So many companies could stand up and take a lesson here from this (i.e. Apple, MS).

    Keep articles like this coming, and I'll keep coming back for more.

    Sincerely,

    ~Ryan
    Reply
  • epyon96 - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    I have been an avid reader of this site for close to 8 years. I used to read almost every CPU, GPU and novelty gadget articles page to page. But over the years, my patience is much lower and I realize I get just as much enjoyment and information from just reading the first page and last page and skimming a few benchmarks.

    However, this is the first article in a while that I spent reading all of it and I thoroughly enjoyed it. These little back stories with a human element in one of the most interesting recent launches provides a refreshing change from boring benchmark-oriented articles.

    I hope to find an article based on Nehpalem of a similar nature and other Intel launches.

    Reply
  • GFC - Wednesday, December 03, 2008 - link

    Wow, all i can say is that i loved this review. It was realy enjoyable to read, and i must give my thanks to Anandtech and Carrell! Reply

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