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


View All Comments

  • d0nnie - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Like many said before, this is truly one of the best readings ive had in a long time. Keep up the good work man! Reply
  • Zar0n - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Great article, it's excellent to have the back story of the GPU wars.

    It's kind like the planes/tanks on the history channel :)

    5* Anandtech
  • ViperV990 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Awesome article. Did NOT miss the sea of charts. At all.

    Loved every bit of the tale.

    Easily the best PR a company can get.

    However I was kinda hoping for a little bit more info on the RV670. What did *that* team go through when making the part that is RV770's direct (or no?) predecessor?
  • Frallan - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Im acctually concidering buying a GFX to support the company that allowed this interview. Its easily one of the best Ive read.

  • hrishi2das - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    A great article... very well written and personal...

    Can Anand with his great contacts get us a backstory on the Core 2 arch. That would be another great article.
  • malmal - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    As an NVDA shareholder, having a *huge* amount of unrealised loss in the shares, I bought the 4870 a month ago.

    A testament to how good the 4870 is at its price point. It just makes sense.
  • piesquared - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    All preferences aside, I have to say that was probably, hands down, the best article i've read in a long, long time. Talk about capturing your audience.

    Tremendous insight.
  • rocky1234 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    Well I must say this is a good article because it is something different good work on this one. I do have to ask this has AMD been making GPU's for 8 years really..ok

    I know ATI has for sure but they were not part of AMD then if AMD has been then oops I guess I never owned one of their GPU's before they bought ATI.
  • nowayout99 - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    I have to echo the other comments here, wonderful article! One of the best ever on Anandtech.

    And thank you, ATI, for giving the community this kind of access to your hard workers.
  • leonxki - Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - link

    What a great story. Really shows how long it can take to make a significant change towards a process that is right for the end user. All those external factors e.g no GDDR5 at the time and G80s prosperity can really suck out an engineers motivation. Good thing those few engineers stuck to the task.

    The card itself looks so neat and well designed from a bird's eye view. To see how the internals were pateiently designed too is awesome!

    The article showed how the RV770 came to life using just words. Time to introduce my pc to life using this card I say :-)

    I also join the best-article-I've-read-wagon on this one.

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