AMD’s graphics division is certainly an important one for AMD. Right now that is the part of AMD that is really hitting on all cylinders, and the one which has the technology that really helps keep AMD competitive with Intel. This past quarter was hugely important for this particular division.
Q1 saw the release and aggressive ramp up of 28 nm graphics products, and the entire lineup from top to bottom was refreshed with 28 nm parts. AMD is rebranding the low end 40 nm 6000 series products to the 7600 series and below, and this is mainly done to appease OEMs. But these parts are no longer very significant to AMD in terms of pricing and margins, as their APU business is quickly eating into these products in terms of features and performance. This will only get worse as Trinity is released and the 95 to 100 watt models will likely match the performance of the HD 7600 models currently available. The HD 7750 looks to be the new low end for discrete graphics, and AMD has these parts in great supply.
A prime example of the AMD HD 7970. In this case the MSI R7970 Lightning.
Unlike their primary graphics competitor, AMD has plenty of 28 nm parts in the market. While the NVIDIA GTX 680 is a faster overall graphics product, NVIDIA made some decisions that have shoehorned that particular chip as a graphics only solution. While it supports GPGPU applications, it is not nearly as good at it as the previous GTX 580 product that preceded it. NVIDIA focused this particular product to be a graphics powerhouse, and an efficient one at that. To achieve this, they did sacrifice the GPGPU portion of it (though they did include a new integrated video encoder that is akin to Intel’s Quick Sync to help make up for this shortfall). AMD on the other hand created a competitively fast graphics solution, but it has much more robust GPGPU capabilities plus their Video Encode Engine. The high end HD 7970 is close to the performance of the GTX 680, but it achieves that by implementing a much wider memory bus and a larger die. The GK-104 which powers the GTX 680 is approximately 294 mm squared while the Tahiti chip which powers the HD 7970 is 365 mm squared. Both of these products are a far cry from the massive 500+ mm squared of the GTX 580.
Unlike NVIDIA, AMD is able to provide the market with more than adequate supplies of 28 nm parts. These range from the low end 7700 series, the impressive and cost effective HD 7800 parts, and finally the high end HD 7900 series. AMD did recently cut their prices for the HD 7900 series of parts, and we have seen a slight decrease in the prices of HD 7800 products. The bright side of this is that NVIDIA still has not released their low end and midrange products based on their new GK-104 architecture. This is an area that AMD is aggressively pursuing, and their efforts have certainly paid off for them.
The dark cloud to this silver lining is that discrete graphics are taking a hit due to higher performing integrated parts from both Intel and AMD. For AMD this means that revenue that would have traditionally come from lower end and midrange discrete parts that would be bundled with a new computer are increasingly being replaced by APU only systems. The discrete graphics market is nowhere near dying though, and there are still plenty of things that need a robust discrete GPU. The biggest need is of course for gaming. Contrary to popular belief, PC gaming is nowhere near dying
either. In fact, the past few years have seen something of a resurgence of PC gaming due to content delivery systems like Steam, MMOs like World of Warcraft, and a very healthy and innovative independent developer model which thrives due to the aforementioned content delivery services like Steam.
The die shot of Trinity, courtesy of Semi-Accurate. Note how much space is dedicated to the graphics portion.
This week AMD also released their first 28 nm mobile graphics processors. The top end 7970M is based on the desktop HD 7870 (Pitcairn) that is clock and power optimized for mobile use. The rest of the 7000 series uses the Cape Verde chip which powers the desktop HD 7770 and HD 7750. This chip is again clock optimized for mobile use, and the lower end product only supports PCI-E 2.1 connectivity rather than the full 3.0 of the desktop units. This is again due to achieving better power characteristics, as PCI-E 3.0 does eat up more juice than the older 2.1 specification.
Graphics overall held steady even in the face of the Q1 seasonal decline. This is again due to AMD being able to refresh their entire graphics lineup with 28 nm parts. Margins are quite good for AMD due to the higher prices they were able to charge for these products as compared to the older HD 6000 series of parts. When we consider that the HD 6970 was around the same die size as the new HD 7970, but was $250 cheaper at retail, we can see that AMD is doing their best to make some hay while the sun is shining. Though 28 nm production is obviously more expensive than the older 40 nm process the previous generation was based on, the difference in chip prices more than makes up for it. The Cape Verde chips are very small in comparison at 123 mm squared.