Dave Baumann Saves the Radeon HD 4850

ATI had this habit of finding good reviewers and bringing them on staff. Our first Graphics Editor, Matthew Witheiler, went to work for ATI after graduating from Duke. He was with AnandTech for a good three years before ATI snagged him, he ended up being ATI’s youngest Product Manager (congrats on the engagement Matthew). One other prominent reviewer ATI grabbed ahold of was Dave Baumann of Beyond3D fame and brought him on to do technical marketing.

One of Baumann’s strongpoints was the ability to analyze the competitive landscape given that’s what he did for Beyond3D before ATI. One of Dave’s first major tasks at ATI was to compare R600 to G80 internally, which wasn’t exactly the best job in November of 2006. Obviously, G80 had a significant impact on RV770. While the architecture was set in stone, clock speeds, board layout and memory sizes were all variable until early 2008.

Initially, RV770 was targeted at 1.5x the performance of R600, which looking back would not have been enough. During the next 1.5 years that 1.5x turned into 2x R600 and finally settled at 2.5x the speed of R600, at a price in the $200 - $300 range.

Dave became a product manager on RV770 by February 2008, which was a big deal given that he hadn’t been with ATI that long and this was a very important product. RV670 saw ATI return to competition in the year prior, but RV770 needed to put ATI back on top.

When Dave took the 770 under his wing a lot of the product had already been mapped out, the chip was back from the fabs and at this point ATI’s engineering team wasn’t ready or eager to make any changes. The RV770 XT sat well with Mr. Baumann (the XT was the internal name of the Radeon HD 4870), in his words “the specifications were perfect”. There was a late change to the 4870 that gave it its second PCIe power connector, but that’s it. Arguably the more important version, the RV770 Pro that would become the Radeon HD 4850, concerned him - it was a bit under spec’d.

Here’s a quick put-yourself-in-ATI’s-shoes test. Your engineering team has spent the past three years on a product that may fail miserably because it’s a radical departure from how you’ve designed GPUs in the past. Your last major GPU architecture launch failed miserably (R600), and the last refresh (RV670) did ok but still didn’t really snag real mindshare from NVIDIA. You’ve just finished this radical new design, and this young new PM with an accent comes in three months before you’re supposed to enter production and tells you that you need to make changes. It was a ballsy move by Baumann, but he wasn’t interested in saving face, he was trying to help his team win. The engineers could’ve just as easily cast him aside, but they listened and they worked, oh did they work. The final stretch is rarely the quickest or the easiest, and this is very true about RV770.

The Radeon HD 4850 was originally a 256MB card with a 500MHz core clock and 900MHz memory clock. Dave insisted that the card needed 512MB of GDDR3 and 625MHz core / 993MHz memory clock, it’s not just that he insisted, but that he convinced the engineers to make such a late change. Dave took the engineers through his reasoning of why and where ATI needed to be in the competitive landscape, by the end of the discussion he didn’t need to persuade them, the board and ASIC teams were championing the changes.

Had it not been for these modifications, the 4850 would not have put as much pressure on NVIDIA’s GeForce 9800 GTX and its pricing wouldn’t have needed to fall so quickly.

Thanks Dave.

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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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