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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  • 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! Reply
  • 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 :) Reply
  • rqle - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    awesome article, very good read, thanks Reply
  • 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.... Reply
  • 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. Reply

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