AMD Announces ATI Mobility Radeon 5000 Seriesby Jarred Walton on January 7, 2010 12:01 AM EST
- Posted in
On paper, the launch of ATI's latest 5000 series mobile GPUs looks very good. They won't provide a huge boost to gaming performance, but they should handle video processing at least as well as the previous generation, and we are very interested in the claims of dramatically improved idle power consumption. Unfortunately, until we get a laptop for testing we can't say for certain how well everything will turn out. There are a few flies in the ointment as we see it.
First, there's the question of drivers. To be honest, ATI's drivers on mobile GPUs (outside of CrossFire solutions) have worked well for us. We have an older laptop with an HD 3650 and updating the drivers from a 2008 release to a 2009 release (9.5 Catalyst) didn't improve performance, and we hadn't experienced any compatibility issues. But that was with HD 3000 series hardware, which is now a couple years old. With new hardware, we expect driver updates to accomplish more in terms of improving performance and compatibility. The real catch is that compatibility is almost certain to cause problems once we start seeing more DirectX 11 games. Why is this likely? Simply look at the past.
The first DirectX 10 hardware came out in November 2006. We didn't see many DX10 enabled games for a while, but nearly one full year after the launch we got Bioshock. Bioshock supported DX10, and guess what needed driver updates? That's right: all of the 8800 series NVIDIA cards (and laptops). We see a similar story with NVIDIA's CUDA and PhysX where driver updates are critical if you want to use those features. We are in the infancy of DX11, and we haven't even begun to scratch the surface of DirectCompute or OpenCL. When we start to see applications using these APIs, we can pretty much guarantee both ATI and NVIDIA will need to provide regularly updated drivers. We have no concerns about ATI's ability to do so on the desktop, but right now they don't have any mobile driver plan as far as we can tell, referring you instead to your notebook manufacturer. Most manufacturers stop updating drivers after a few months, and some models don't even get that!
We mentioned earlier that ATI informed us they will announce plans for an improved mobile driver program "very soon". Let's take a moment to make sure ATI knows exactly what we expect. We need, at the minimum, new drivers for all current mobile GPUs released on a regular schedule. NVIDIA has committed to quarterly releases in the past, and we would suggest that is a good starting point. We don't necessarily need complete integration with the desktop driver releases, but that would be the ideal end goal. NVIDIA hasn't managed to pull that one off yet, but they're getting closer. And just to be clear: we know ATI has tried to do drivers like this in the past, and the OEMs said no. Well, OEMs, there's not a chance you can make a good gaming laptop unless you let users get regularly updated graphics drivers from the GPU manufacturer. So get with the program!
And let's not even discuss ATI drivers for alternative operating systems like Linux. Ugh. I'll leave that to Christopher.
The second concern is availability of these new graphics chips. We don't mean being able to go out and buy the chips themselves; we mean the ability to purchase laptops that use the latest and greatest ATI hardware. Ideally, we would really like to see some of the new Arrandale laptops with 5800 series hardware (or even 5600/5700 hardware). We know several such laptops are in the works, and we can discuss them tomorrow, but we still need to see how well they work. Considering Arrandale has built-in IGP, these laptops also better support hybrid graphics. The idle power draw of ATI's 5000 series may be significantly lower than previous ATI mobile solutions, but nothing beats the ability to shut your discrete GPU down completely and run off of a low-power IGP when you don't need the extra graphics performance. ATI supports this, so again this is up to laptop manufacturers to make sure they implement the feature.
Finally, we've talked a little bit about NVIDIA, and we know NVIDIA is working on updated mobile hardware as well. Will they support DirectX 11? We don't know. How fast will they run? We don't know, but it's a safe bet they will be at least 20% faster than their previous generation hardware, which means they could easily match ATI's performance. How soon will this hardware be available? Probably at least a month or two after ATI's hardware, given NVIDIA hasn't announced details yet. That's a lot of questions and very few answers, but we may have more information by next month so stay tuned.
Wrapping things up, what we have today is your typical notebook GPU launch: it's all on paper with very little hardware out there for review. We know there are laptops at CES using some of these new GPUs, but CES is full of products that won't be available at retail for another month or two at least. As soon as we can get hardware in our labs, we will be able to provide an actual review of ATI's hardware. It sounds good, but drivers in particular are still a major concern for us, especially on the 5600 and above. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this launch is that ATI is doing a top to bottom mobile GPU update, rather than the more common high-end followed by midrange and low-end (or vice versa) launches we frequently see. We'd also like to see a new IGP solution that can double the performance of the HD 4200, but that's just us being greedy.
For those who are interested in the complete presentation, below is a gallery of all 34 slides. You can read additional information about Blu-ray support (it works fine on our old HD 3650 laptop, so we're not exactly sure what has changed), ATI Stream, and other details we didn't feel needed a lot of discussion. We also received a link to an AMD YouTube Video showing some of the DX11 vs. DX10 scenes in action, which is pretty cool. Enjoy!