The Last Hiccup: Boards Went on Sale Too Soon

The RV770 products were finished in May of 2008, production started by June. Even up until the day that the embargo lifted there were some within ATI who felt they had made a mistake with the smaller-die strategy, but they were going to find out how right the strategy was, even sooner than expected.

The last bump in the road to the Radeon HD 4800 came just a week before launch. We had literally just gotten our first Radeon HD 4850 cards when Chris Hook called and told me that some 4850s had started selling in Europe.

In order to salvage the launch ATI was proposing the following: we could talk about Radeon HD 4850 performance, but we couldn’t talk about the 4870 or the RV770 architecture.

Within 30 hours we had our first preview up and made it already clear that ATI was on to something. The GeForce 9800 GTX got an abrupt price drop to remain competitive and even then it wasn’t enough, the Radeon HD 4850 was the card to get at $199.

The last hiccup in ATI’s launch ended up not being bad at all, ATI got some extra PR, drummed up some added excitement and in the end did justice to a product that deserved it.

Recon from Taiwan

One thing I wondered was how well ATI knew NVIDIA’s plans and vice versa, so I asked the obvious: where do you guys get your information from? The answer was pretty much as expected: Taiwan. All of the board makers know one another and are generally open with sharing information, once information hits Taiwan it’s up for grabs. Then there’s a bit of guesswork that’s done.

ATI planned to put its best foot forward, looking at the roadmaps it seemed like NVIDIA wasn’t going to do much in the G92 space in the time period that ATI would launch RV770. NVIDIA had its sights set on another G80-esque launch with GT200, it would introduce this honkin new chip, price it out of the reach of most and not worry about the peasants until sometime in 2010. The existing product line would be relied on to keep the masses at bay.

ATI was lucky that NVIDIA only had GT200 for the end of 2008 and that NVIDIA’s GT200 performance wasn’t exactly where it needed to be, because it created an opportunity that ATI has only had a couple of times in the past decade.

With the Radeon HD 4850 the initial goal was to make a product that was certainly better than the 8800 GT. It was never a goal for the 4850 to be competitive with the 9800 GTX, after all that was a $300 part and this would sell for $200.

The Radeon HD 4870 was targeted to be faster than the 9800 GTX, which again would make a lot of sense since this was ATI’s $300 part and the GTX was NVIDIA’s. What ATI didn’t expect was for the 4870 to do so well against the GeForce GTX 260. When NVIDIA finally launched the GeForce GTX 280/260 ATI looked at the results and let out a collective “wait a minute”. It worked out perfectly, not only did ATI hit the competitive points it wanted to but thanks to GT200 performance being lower than ATI expected and the RV770 doing better than expected, ATI now had a $300 card that was competitive with NVIDIA’s brand new $400 GTX 260.

For ATI, RV770 was the cake that came out unexpectedly well. Everyone could smell it, and they knew it would be good, but no one expected it to be perfect. NVIDIA responded extremely quickly and honestly no other company would be able to handle such competition so well, but that doesn’t change what ATI was able to accomplish.

These days no one questions Carrell’s thinking about RV770 any longer, everyone agrees that he was right about the strategy. My question is, how long until ATI has to re-evaluate its GPU strategy once more? The first time was in 2001 with R300, again in 2005 with the RV770, which would point to next year as to when some tough decisions may be made again - the results of which we wouldn’t see until 2012/2013.

The next question is how will NVIDIA respond to ATI’s strategy? Jen Hsun runs a very tight ship over there and does not take kindly to losing, especially not like this. NVIDIA continues to have very strong engineering talent and over the next couple of years we’ll see how RV770 has impacted NVIDIA’s development. It’s possible that NVIDIA too realized that the smaller-die strategy made more sense without having been impacted by RV770, perhaps NVIDIA will stick with making huge GPUs, or maybe a third option exists that isn’t as obvious.

Dave Baumann Saves the Radeon HD 4850 What's Next and Larrabee Of Course
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  • VaultDweller - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    I wish you had gotten greedy! I want to know about RV870, and about nVidia's first DirectX 11 part too.

    I had been thinking about building a new gaming rig in Q1 2009, but presently it looks like I'd be spending too much for too little improvement over my current box. I'm hoping that changes by late summer. :)
  • murray13 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Kudos to you Anand for a G R E A T article!!!

    And to AMD/ATI for making this possible!

    Now if only AMD on the cpu side could do something similar...
  • jzodda - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    This is one of the best articles I have read here and there have been so many over the years. In the more then 10+ years I have been coming here I have always enjoyed this site and Anand continues to produce great content. Here's to another 10 years!
  • pcfxer - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Not only does anand do engineering, he writes like mad!

    "Passion has a funny way of being a person’s strongest ally."
  • prophet001 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    great article. thank you for writing this :)
  • rqle - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    awesome article, very good read, thanks
  • wingless - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Anand, you and all the hard working people at this website have just outdone yourselves. You raised the bar yet again.

    Your readers are probably as amazed as you are that AMD/ATI came out with such personal and intimate information as to what goes on behind closed doors. Your conclusion is on point as well. Without competition, we know these other companies will run wild with their prices. Unfortunately for us, the fate of competition in both the GPU and CPU market falls on AMD which needs a little financial lovin' right about now.

    My strongest desire is that the CPU team over at AMD pulls out all the stops with their next CPU to Bulldoze the competition (or just their prices). We need to make $1000 CPUs a thing of the past. Maybe your site and others can put pressure on AMD to bump up their CPU roadmap about a year so we see Bulldozer in 2010.
  • Zoomer - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Yup. I have always voted Red with my wallet though! The only two green cards I had were the Riva TNT and the 7600GT. Got rid of that after a couple of months though: it was noisy and the drivers sucked.

    Radeon DDR 32MB, Radeon 8500, Radeon 9500Pro (Unlocked ;)), Radeon X800XT, Radeon x1950 Pro, and finally the Radeon 4850!
  • wingless - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    I know that is an unrealistic hope. I understand AMD has made it's road map decisions very carefully given their current situation. I can dream though....
  • Bull Dog - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Awesome article Anand. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and I hope for more articles like this in the feature. Many thanks to AMD for letting this happen.

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