Early testing for higher end GPUs
UPDATE 2/5/16: Nixxes released a new version of Rise of the Tomb Raider today with some significant changes. I have added another page at the end of this story that looks at results with the new version of the game, a new AMD driver and I've also included some SLI and CrossFire results.
I will fully admit to being jaded by the industry on many occasions. I love my PC games and I love hardware but it takes a lot for me to get genuinely excited about anything. After hearing game reviewers talk up the newest installment of the Tomb Raider franchise, Rise of the Tomb Raider, since it's release on the Xbox One last year, I've been waiting for its PC release to give it a shot with real hardware. As you'll see in the screenshots and video in this story, the game doesn't appear to disappoint.
Rise of the Tomb Raider takes the exploration and "tomb raiding" aspects that made the first games in the series successful and applies them to the visual quality and character design brought in with the reboot of the series a couple years back. The result is a PC game that looks stunning at any resolution, but even more so in 4K, that pushes your hardware to its limits. For single GPU performance, even the GTX 980 Ti and Fury X struggle to keep their heads above water.
In this short article we'll look at the performance of Rise of the Tomb Raider with a handful of GPUs, leaning towards the high end of the product stack, and offer up my view on whether each hardware vendor is living up to expectations.
Are Computers Still Getting Faster?
It looks like CES is starting to wind down, which makes sense because it ended three days ago. Now that we're mostly caught up, I found a new video from The 8-Bit Guy. He doesn't really explain any old technologies in this one. Instead, he poses an open question about computer speed. He was able to have a functional computing experience on a ten-year-old Apple laptop, which made him wonder if the rate of computer advancement is slowing down.
I believe that he (and his guest hosts) made great points, but also missed a few important ones.
One of his main arguments is that software seems to have slowed down relative to hardware. I don't believe that is true, but I believe it's looking in the right area. PCs these days are more than capable of doing just about anything in terms of 2D user interface that we would want to, and do so with a lot of overhead for inefficient platforms and sub-optimal programming (relative to the 80's and 90's at the very least). The areas that require extra horsepower are usually doing large batches of many related tasks. GPUs are key in this area, and they are keeping up as fast as they can, despite some stagnation with fabrication processes and a difficulty (at least before HBM takes hold) in keeping up with memory bandwidth.
For the last five years to ten years or so, CPUs have been evolving toward efficiency as GPUs are being adopted for the tasks that need to scale up. I'm guessing that AMD, when they designed the Bulldozer architecture, hoped that GPUs would have been adopted much more aggressively, but even as graphics devices, they now have a huge effect on Web, UI, and media applications.
These are also tasks that can scale well between devices by lowering resolution (and so forth). The primary thing that a main CPU thread needs to do is figure out the system's state and keep the graphics card fed before the frame-train leaves the station. In my experience, that doesn't scale well (although you can sometimes reduce the amount of tracked objects for games and so forth). Moreover, it is easier to add GPU performance, compared to single-threaded CPU, because increasing frequency and single-threaded IPC should be more complicated than planning out more, duplicated blocks of shaders. These factors combine to give lower-end hardware a similar experience in the most noticeable areas.
So, up to this point, we discussed:
- Software is often scaling in ways that are GPU (and RAM) limited.
- CPUs are scaling down in power more than up in performance.
- GPU-limited tasks can often be approximated with smaller workloads.
- Software gets heavier, but it doesn't need to be "all the way up" (ex: resolution).
- Some latencies are hard to notice anyway.
Back to the Original Question
This is where “Are computers still getting faster?” can be open to interpretation.
Tasks are diverging from one class of processor into two, and both have separate industries, each with their own, multiple goals. As stated, CPUs are mostly progressing in power efficiency, which extends (an assumed to be) sufficient amount of performance downward to multiple types of devices. GPUs are definitely getting faster, but they can't do everything. At the same time, RAM is plentiful but its contribution to performance can be approximated with paging unused chunks to the hard disk or, more recently on Windows, compressing them in-place. Newer computers with extra RAM won't help as long as any single task only uses a manageable amount of it -- unless it's seen from a viewpoint that cares about multi-tasking.
In short, computers are still progressing, but the paths are now forked and winding.
Subject: Graphics Cards | December 31, 2015 - 06:41 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: rumor, report, radeon, Polaris, graphics card, gpu, GCN, amd
A report claims that Polaris will succeed GCN (Graphics Core Next) as the next AMD Radeon GPU core, which will power the 400-series graphics cards.
Image via VideoCardz.com
As these rumors go, this is about as convoluted as it gets. VideoCardz has published the story, sourced from WCCFtech, who was reporting on a post with supposedly leaked slides at HardwareBattle. The primary slide in question has since been pulled, and appears below:
Image via HWBattle.com
Of course the name does nothing to provide architectural information on this presumptive GCN replacement, and a new core for the 400-series GPUs was expected anyway after the 300-series was largely a rebranded 200-series (that's a lot of series). Let's hope actual details emerge soon, but for now we can speculate on mysterious tweets from certain interested parties:
— Raja Koduri (@GFXChipTweeter) November 26, 2015
Subject: Graphics Cards | November 7, 2015 - 09:46 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: tonga, rumor, report, Radeon R9 380X, r9 285, graphics card, gpu, GDDR5, amd
AMD will reportedly be launching their latest performance graphics card soon, and specs for this rumored R9 380X have now been reported at VR-Zone (via Hardware Battle).
(Image credit: VR-Zone)
Here are the full specifications from this report:
- GPU Codename: Antigua
- Process: 28 nm
- Stream Processors: 2048
- GPU Clock: Up to 1000 – 1100 MHz (exact number not known)
- Memory Size: 4096 MB
- Memory Type: GDDR5
- Memory Interface: 256-bit
- Memory Clock: 5500 – 6000 MHz (exact number not known)
- Display Output: DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 1.4, Dual-Link DVI-D
The launch date is reportedly November 15, and the card will (again, reportedly) carry a $249 MSRP at launch.
The 380X would build on the existing R9 285
Compared to the R9 280X, which also offers 2048 stream processors, a boost clock up to 1000 MHz, and 6000 MHz GDDR5, the R9 380X would lose memory bandwidth due to the move from a 384-bit memory interface to 256-bit. The actual performance won’t be exactly comparable however, as the core (Antigua, previously Tonga) will share more in common with the R9 285 (Tonga), though the R9 285 only offered 1792 Stream processors and 2 GB of GDDR5.
You can check out our review of the R9 285 here to see how it performed against the R9 280X, and it will certainly be interesting to see how this R9 380X will fare if these specifications are accurate.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 05:49 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: tape out, rumor, report, Radeon 400 Series, radeon, graphics card, gpu, Ellesmere, Baffin, amd
Details are almost nonexistent, but a new report claims that AMD has reached tape out for an upcoming Radeon 400 series of graphics cards, which could be the true successor to the R9 200-series after the rebranded 3xx cards.
Image credit: WCCFtech
According to the report:
"AMD has reportedly taped out two of its next-gen GPUs, with "Ellesmere" and "Baffin" both taping out - and both part of the upcoming Radeon 400 series of video cards."
I wish there was more here to report, but if this is accurate we should start to hear some details about these new cards fairly soon. The important thing is that AMD is working on the new performance mainstream cards so soon after releasing what was largely a simple rebrand accross much of the 300-series GPUs this year.
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 23, 2015 - 04:29 AM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: r9 nano, mITX, mini-itx, graphics card, gpu, asus, amd
AMD's Radeon R9 Nano is a really cool product, able to provide much of power of the bigger R9 Fury X without the need for more than a standard air cooler, and doing so with an impossibly tiny size for a full graphics card. And while mini-ITX graphics cards serve a small segment of the market, just who might be buying a white one when this is released?
According to a report published first by Computer Base in Germany, ASUS is releasing an all-white AMD R9 Nano, and it looks really sharp. The stock R9 Nano is no slouch in the looks department as you can see here in our full review of AMD's newest GPU, but with this design ASUS provides a totally different look that could help unify the style of your build depending on your other component choices. White is just starting to show up for things like motherboard PCBs, but it's pretty rare in part due to the difficulty in manufacturing white parts that stay white when they are subjected to heat.
There was no mention on a specific release window for the ASUS R9 Nano White, so we'll have to wait for official word on that. It is possible that ASUS has also implemented their own custom PCB, though details are not know just yet. We should know more by the end of next month according to the report.
GPU Enthusiasts Are Throwing a FET
NVIDIA is rumored to launch Pascal in early (~April-ish) 2016, although some are skeptical that it will even appear before the summer. The design was finalized months ago, and unconfirmed shipping information claims that chips are being stockpiled, which is typical when preparing to launch a product. It is expected to compete against AMD's rumored Arctic Islands architecture, which will, according to its also rumored numbers, be very similar to Pascal.
This architecture is a big one for several reasons.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
First, it will jump two full process nodes. Current desktop GPUs are manufactured at 28nm, which was first introduced with the GeForce GTX 680 all the way back in early 2012, but Pascal will be manufactured on TSMC's 16nm FinFET+ technology. Smaller features have several advantages, but a huge one for GPUs is the ability to fit more complex circuitry in the same die area. This means that you can include more copies of elements, such as shader cores, and do more in fixed-function hardware, like video encode and decode.
That said, we got a lot more life out of 28nm than we really should have. Chips like GM200 and Fiji are huge, relatively power-hungry, and complex, which is a terrible idea to produce when yields are low. I asked Josh Walrath, who is our go-to for analysis of fab processes, and he believes that FinFET+ is probably even more complicated today than 28nm was in the 2012 timeframe, which was when it launched for GPUs.
It's two full steps forward from where we started, but we've been tiptoeing since then.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
Second, Pascal will introduce HBM 2.0 to NVIDIA hardware. HBM 1.0 was introduced with AMD's Radeon Fury X, and it helped in numerous ways -- from smaller card size to a triple-digit percentage increase in memory bandwidth. The 980 Ti can talk to its memory at about 300GB/s, while Pascal is rumored to push that to 1TB/s. Capacity won't be sacrificed, either. The top-end card is expected to contain 16GB of global memory, which is twice what any console has. This means less streaming, higher resolution textures, and probably even left-over scratch space for the GPU to generate content in with compute shaders. Also, according to AMD, HBM is an easier architecture to communicate with than GDDR, which should mean a savings in die space that could be used for other things.
Third, the architecture includes native support for three levels of floating point precision. Maxwell, due to how limited 28nm was, saved on complexity by reducing 64-bit IEEE 754 decimal number performance to 1/32nd of 32-bit numbers, because FP64 values are rarely used in video games. This saved transistors, but was a huge, order-of-magnitude step back from the 1/3rd ratio found on the Kepler-based GK110. While it probably won't be back to the 1/2 ratio that was found in Fermi, Pascal should be much better suited for GPU compute.
Image Credit: WCCFTech
Mixed precision could help video games too, though. Remember how I said it supports three levels? The third one is 16-bit, which is half of the format that is commonly used in video games. Sometimes, that is sufficient. If so, Pascal is said to do these calculations at twice the rate of 32-bit. We'll need to see whether enough games (and other applications) are willing to drop down in precision to justify the die space that these dedicated circuits require, but it should double the performance of anything that does.
So basically, this generation should provide a massive jump in performance that enthusiasts have been waiting for. Increases in GPU memory bandwidth and the amount of features that can be printed into the die are two major bottlenecks for most modern games and GPU-accelerated software. We'll need to wait for benchmarks to see how the theoretical maps to practical, but it's a good sign.
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 16, 2015 - 01:16 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: TSMC, Samsung, pascal, nvidia, hbm, graphics card, gpu
According to a report by BusinessKorea TSMC has been selected to produce the upcoming Pascal GPU after initially competing with Samsung for the contract.
Though some had considered the possibility of both Samsung and TSMC sharing production (albeit on two different process nodes, as Samsung is on 14 nm FinFET), in the end the duties fall on TSMC's 16 nm FinFET alone if this report is accurate. The move is not too surprising considering the longstanding position TSMC has maintained as a fab for GPU makers and Samsung's lack of experience in this area.
The report didn't make the release date for Pascal any more clear, naming it "next year" for the new HBM-powered GPU, which will also reportedly feature 16 GB of HBM 2 memory for the flagship version of the card. This would potentially be the first GPU released at 16 nm (unless AMD has something in the works before Pascal's release), as all current AMD and NVIDIA GPUs are manufactured at 28 nm.
Subject: Graphics Cards | August 25, 2015 - 06:23 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: Radeon R9 Nano, radeon, r9 nano, hbm, graphics, gpu, amd
New detailed photos of the upcoming Radeon R9 Nano have surfaced, and Ryan has confirmed with AMD that these are in fact real.
We've seen the outside of the card before, but for the first time we are provided a detailed look under the hood.
The cooler is quite compact and has copper heatpipes for both core and VRM
The R9 Nano is a very small card and it will be powered with a single 8-pin power connector directed toward the back.
Connectivity is provided via three DisplayPort outputs and a single HDMI port
And fans of backplates will need to seek 3rd-party offerings as it looks like this will have a bare PCB around back.
We will keep you updated if any official specifications become available, and of course we'll have complete coverage once the R9 Nano is officially launched!
Subject: Graphics Cards, Systems | August 17, 2015 - 03:00 PM | Sebastian Peak
Tagged: NPD, gpu, discrete gpu, graphics, marketshare, PC industry
News from NPD Research today shows a sharp decline in discrete graphics shipments from all major vendors. Not great news for the PC industry, but not all that surprising, either.
These numbers don’t indicate a lack of discrete GPU interest in the PC enthusiast community of course, but certainly show how the mainstream market has changed. OEM laptop and (more recently) desktop makers predominantly use processor graphics from Intel and AMD APUs, though the decrease of over 7% for Intel GPUs suggests a decline in PC shipments overall.
Here are the highlights, quoted directly from NPD Research:
- AMD's overall unit shipments decreased -25.82% quarter-to-quarter, Intel's total shipments decreased -7.39% from last quarter, and Nvidia's decreased -16.19%.
- The attach rate of GPUs (includes integrated and discrete GPUs) to PCs for the quarter was 137% which was down -10.82% from last quarter, and 26.43% of PCs had discrete GPUs, which is down -4.15%.
- The overall PC market decreased -4.05% quarter-to-quarter, and decreased -10.40% year-to-year.
- Desktop graphics add-in boards (AIBs) that use discrete GPUs decreased -16.81% from last quarter.
An overall decrease of 10.4 % year-to-year indicates what I'll call the continuing evolution of the PC (rather than a decline, per se), and shows how many have come to depend on smartphones for the basic computing tasks (email, web browsing) that once required a PC. Tablets didn’t replace the PC in the way that was predicted only 5 years ago, and it’s almost become essential to pair a PC with a smartphone for a complete personal computing experience (sorry, tablets – we just don’t NEED you as much).
I would guess anyone reading this on a PC enthusiast site is not only using a PC, but probably one with discrete graphics, too. Or maybe you exclusively view our site on a tablet or smartphone? I for one won’t stop buying PC components until they just aren’t available anymore, and that dark day is probably still many years off.