AMD tells us about DirectX 10.1 games, the 4870X2, product availibility in India, CrossFire driver quality, Fusion, Puma and more
Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) was in India to launch its 4800 series of GPUs (Graphic Processing Unit). They also took the opportunity to familiarize the media with their Cinema 2.0 tech, dubbed Bollywood 2.0 for our benefit.
From left to right, we have, Avinash Ramachandra, AMD public relations representative India; Deepanshu Sharma, general manager-marketing & strategy - AMD India; Chris Hook, AMD public relations representative; Jules Urbach, founder and CEO of OTOY; and and Raja Koduri, worldwide Chief Technology Officer (Products Group) at AMD.
Techtree's Ameya Dalvi caught up with Raja Koduri for an off-the-cuff tech-chat on everything AMD.
Born in Hyderabad, Koduri moved to San Francisco to work as a GPU architect. Since the early days of the 3D GPUs, in the late 90s, he was involved with the design teams that made 3D happen. After ten years of working with ATI and now AMD, Raja currently heads the graphics card group there.
Raja Koduri, worldwide CTO (Products Group), AMD
The following chat should answer some of the burning questions that you have regarding AMD products and directions:
TT:The AMD cards are the only ones to support DirectX 10.1 currently. When can we see the first DirectX 10.1 game?
Raja: You've already seen one -- Assassin's Creed. There's a patch available for it [Ed's note: A patch that actually removes DirectX 10.1 support]. In San Francisco, Electronic Arts and Sega recently showcased new games that they're bringing out for DirectX 10.1. Unfortunately, we're not allowed to disclose the release dates for obvious reasons but you can anticipate a few titles by this Christmas.
TT:How soon can we see the 4800 X2s?
Chris: The HD 4870 X2 is going to be available in August. There will be two different flavors for that, available at different price points.
As an aside, AMD has already built a computer that has four 4870X2s in it. So it has eight GPUs; drivers will not be supporting eight GPUs at this point of time.
TT:How about the issue of product availability and competitive pricing for the Indian market?
R: The first thing I did after I landed in India last week, was that I called up one of my engineers at the AMD lab in Hyderabad and asked him, 'hey, where do you buy your cards from? Can you call them up and ask for a 4850?' You know, just to check how available they are in India. Because we're shipping hundreds and thousands of these across the world and I'd like to make sure that we have them available at decent prices here in India, and not disadvantage people here.
TT:The move from the 320 processors to 800 (for the 4850); that's a massive jump. How did you manage to keep the cost down? Since both are based on a 55nm process.
R: Yes, we've been asked this question several times, and it's interesting that everyone actually expects that we have one magic silver bullet. But it's actually a combination of a hundred different things that all had to be coordinated to come together in reducing the price. We took the arithmetic logic unit on each of these 320 stream processors and optimized them, shrunk it down while keeping the functionality; in fact, we added functionality. We also added various instructions to it. So it's not that we removed any functionality, we added functionality. But we got a chance to optimize thanks to the 100 engineers working on this chip. They did a pretty good job of it.
TT:Were you working on the 4-series even before your 3-series was out? Were you targeting the 4-series and was the 3-series just a stop gap arrangement?
R: With the 3800 series, we knew we had an opportunity to work with 55nm. So we decided, 'let's do that in the shortest possible time without making design changes and the architecture changes'. So we took the 2-series and shrunk it down and got the power and cost advantages that you get with the 3-series. But for the 4-series -- we started while 3 was happening said, 'we have to take it to the next level.'
TT:One thing that we noticed with CrossFire: the drivers there haven't been very efficient. Two cards don't exactly add up anywhere close to the theoretical 200 per cent performance leap that we should be looking at. We haven't been able to go beyond 30 per cent; that's really on the lower side.
R: A couple of things here. Games, when you play them at resolutions that are not entirely GPU-bound, then you won't see more than 35-40 per cent. When you make the game completely GPU-bound, say you're running at a resolution higher than 1600 x 1200, you'll start to see the scaling.
TT:We're talking high resolution here; otherwise you really won't buy 2 cards. One card is more than sufficient.
R: Part of the problem is that say, the scaling on the 4800 series would be absolute scaling, would be lower than 3800 series; because the single GPU is faster so you start hitting the CPU limit. But for the next-generation games, it's better. The way I look at it is really is that it's not just about how much scaling you get, it's basically, 'am I able to get good FPS in all games at resolutions higher then 1600x1200', on your fancy new rig. Even if the scaling is 30 per cent more, that gets me over that bump of the stuttery [sic] frame rate, towards smooth frame rate, that's really worth it. So scaling is for us technologists, just interesting to see how much scaling I got.
TT:But you also have to take the cost of hardware into consideration and check if the performance is at par with the single card I could purchase for the price of these two cards. Giving an Nvidia example, for a technical stand point -- if you take two 8800GT cards, they outperform a 9800GX2 which is priced practically 1.5 times the cost of the two GTs that is where having an SLI setup makes sense. Had performance been 50 per cent lower than that, a single card would have made more sense.
R: If you see today, two 4850s is actually the cream. Two 4850s in crossfire can make the GTX280 look silly in several benchmarks. So the thing is, because of the limits on physics, power and thermal limits, big chips come with more baggage. That's why we changed the strategy to go with small chips so that you can get a better experience after putting them in your system. It was a risky decision two years ago. We were staring at the power limits and we were sure that the consumer doesn't want to change his power supply every year.
TT:According to you, what kind of a power supply (in terms of wattage) would be good enough to run two 4850s?
R: Anything in the range of 600W; a good quality power supply.
TT:In CrossFire, most of the motherboards, almost 95 per cent of them, support 8X mode instead of 16X each (PCI-E bus speed). Is 8X good enough?
R: If I answer this from a forward looking viewpoint -- yes more bandwidth is always good, but from an existing games stand point, it is good enough, that's what we find.
TT:Good enough even for the 4-series?
R: Yes, because our drivers and the games, at least the last generation games, they've been optimized to avoid traffic between GPUs. But my prediction is that moving forward it will be important that there's more bandwidth between GPUs. So if you want to use this configuration for a long time, then you'll have to go for 16X.
TT:Given the rendering capabilities of the 4850, is it also going to double up as a FireGL product, or will there be a different version?
R: There will be FireGL versions of this technology later this year. Obviously, a Radeon card can be utilized too, but in fireGL versions of the card, we provide certain features on the board and in the software, that makes it much more productive for some of the production houses, workstations, CAD, and other design-related consumers. Some people have been using Radeons for the same and they'll continue to do so.
TT:To put it in numbers, can we say that the rendering capability of the 4800-series of cards is better than the last generation of the FireGL cards?
R: It is better compared to the last generation high-end FireGL. There are some aspects of FireGL, let's say Y-frame rendering, and some of the things that the CAD guys use - the last gen fireGL might be a little faster than the Radeon 4850. But generally the 4800 would be faster.
TT:At some point you see a convergence of both?
R: This is a question that has repeatedly been asked and my answer to this always is: there's Lexus, and then there's Toyota; often they're based on similar engines, but Lexus means something to its followers, similarly there's the FireGL line means quality, the support guarantees, and more importantly application and the software features that come along with it; it means something special to our customers. May be they'll converge at some point in the future but right now our customers say that they clearly see a difference in the Radeon and the FireGL lines.
TT:Could you throw some light on the concept of Fusion, there seems to be a lot of confusion regarding it.
R: At a high-level: for us the idea behind Fusion is, in the 1st generation at least, to bring better graphic and CPU power at a good cost, and for the entry-level systems. Our observation is that majority of the consumer PC needs are all media related -- video playback, YouTube playback, editing, and what not. And online gaming is another phenomenon; we'll be capturing our market data on that soon enough. I think that's a huge phenomenon especially in Asia. So one of the things we want to do is that, we want to try and push down the power consumption for the entry-level platform but give them a good basic graphics experience too. So we wanted to do offer decent multimedia playback, DVD video playback with an integrated UVD (Unified Video Decoder).
TT:So we're looking at something like a 780G and one of your CPUs rolled into one. Does this mean that with Fusion we're predominantly looking at entry-level and not high-end?
R: The first generation, yes.
TT:Are you planning to extend the architecture?
R: The vision is to get there eventually. From a market standpoint, first we want introduce the entry-level [product].
TT:We can expect this in 2009?
TT:Lastly, about Puma; what is happening on that end? It was supposed to be out by now.
R: Laptop technology is not like the discreet stuff, [for the discreet parts] when you announce you can go out and buy soon. With the notebook stuff there's always a lag of six months. So we are done with our work on Puma. Now the laptops would be going through their stress testing and what not. By this Christmas, we expect a wide range of Puma laptops.
TT: Thank you for your time.
[End of our chat with Raja Koduri and Chris Hook]
The event gave us some valuable insight regarding some of the key products of the company. AMD has seen its star rise and wane, and perhaps it shall rise again with the launch of the 4800-series. The company has some exciting tech waiting in the wings -- in the form of the 4870X2, its Fusion concept, and the Puma laptop platform.
The good news for the rest of us, is that the competition between AMD, Intel and Nvidia will keep the prices and performance competitive, which translates to an exciting time for us consumers for sure!