The flower, not the hormone
It was way back in December of 2014 that AMD and the Radeon group first started down the path of major driver updates on an annual cadence. The Catalyst Omega release marked the beginning of a recommitment to the needs of gamers (and now professionals) with more frequent, and more dramatic, software updates and improvements. Cognizant of the previous reputation the company had with drivers and software, often a distant second to the success that NVIDIA had created with it GeForce drivers, Radeon users were promised continuous increases.
And make no mistake, the team at AMD had an uphill battle. But with releases like Omega, Crimson, ReLive, and now Adrenalin, it’s clear that the leadership has received the message and put emphasis on the portion of its product that can have the most significant impact on experience.
AMD joins us at the PCPer offices to talk through all the new features and capabilities!
Named after the adrenalin rose, rather than the drug that flows through your body when being chased by feral cats, this latest major software release for Radeon users includes a host of new features and upgraded ones that should bring a fresh coat of paint to any existing GPU. Two big features will steal the show, the new Radeon Overlay and a mobile app called AMD Link. But expansions to ReLive, Wattman, Enhanced Sync, and Chill are equally compelling.
Let’s start with what I think will get the most attention and deservedly so, the Radeon Overlay. As the name would suggest, the overlay can be turned out through a hotkey in-game, and allows the gamer to access graphics card monitoring tools and many driver settings without leaving the game, having to alt-tab, or having to close the game to apply. By hitting Alt-R, a screen will show up on the right-hand side of the display, with the game continuing to run in the background. The user will be able to interact with the menu via mouse or keyboard, and then hit the same hotkey or Esc to return.
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 13, 2017 - 01:36 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: rtg, raja koduri, radeon technologies group, radeon, amd
Radeon Technologies Group SVP and Chief Architect Raja Koduri is taking sabbatical from AMD as of today, with a target return date in December. As first reported by our friends at Fudzilla (and also Tweaktown), and that I was able to confirm through AMD this evening, one of our favorite people in the graphics industry will be stepping aside for the time being. AMD CEO Lisa Su will be taking over the Radeon Technologies Group in the interim.
Raja is a great personality and innovator in the graphics market and I was able to interview him during the Polaris roll out last year. He was candid, open to ideas, and clearly cared about the gamers and PC gaming market. It was only in September of 2015 that he returned to AMD as the leader of the newly created Radeon Technologies Group, a division of AMD rededicated to graphics leadership.
AMD Radeon Technologies Group SVP, Raja Koduri
The easy response to this news, and the most common reaction, will be to assume that Raja was pushed out and will not return due to the state of the Radeon division after the launch of Vega. But in truth, despite it having issues with efficiency and performance that we noted in our reviews, AMD has had no issue selling the Vega cards its made. The professional markets are competitive again and AMD's entrance into the enterprise compute space opens up a wide array of new opportunity for AMD architectures.
Nor has it had issues selling Radeon RX 400 or RX 500 products either. Whether you consider that good planning by Raja and his team or just the luck of the cryptocurrency market, it really doesn't matter. The Radeon group has provided value to the company and to shareholders.
The Radeon Vega family of graphics cards
As with most things in life, the truth is likely more complex than we can decipher from a single note or message. I was able to get my hands on the letter sent from Raja to his team, which I have provided below:
You haven’t heard from me collectively in a while – a symptom not only of the whirlwind of launching Vega, but simply of the huge number of demands on my time since the formation of RTG. Looking back over this short period, it is an impressive view. We have delivered 6 straight quarters of double-digit growth in graphics, culminating in the launch of Vega and being back in high-performance. What we have done with Vega is unparalleled. We entered the high-end gaming, professional workstation and machine intelligence markets with Vega in a very short period of time. The demand for Vega (and Polaris!) is fantastic, and overall momentum for our graphics is strong.
Incredibly, we as AMD also managed to spectacularly re-enter the high-performance CPU segments this year. We are all exceptionally proud of Ryzen, Epyc and Threadripper. The computing world is not the same anymore and the whole world is cheering for AMD. Congratulations and thanks to those of you in RTG who helped see these products through. The market for high-performance computing is on an explosive growth trajectory driven by machine intelligence, visual cloud, blockchain and other exciting new workloads. Our vision of immersive and instinctive computing is within grasp. As we enter 2018, I will be shifting my focus more toward architecting and realizing this vision and rebalancing my operational responsibilities.
At the beginning of the year I warned that Vega would be hard. At the time, some folks didn’t believe me. Now many of you understand what I said. Vega was indeed hard on many, and my sincere heartfelt thanks to all of you who endured the Vega journey with me. Vega was personally hard on me as well and I used up a lot of family credits during this journey. I have decided to take a time-off in Q4 to spend time with my family. I have been contemplating this for a while now and there was never a good time to do this. Lisa and I agreed that Q4 is better than 2018, before the next wave of product excitement. Lisa will be acting as the leader of RTG during by absence. My sincere thanks to Lisa and rest of AET for supporting me in this decision and agreeing to take on additional workload during my absence.
I am looking to start my time-off on Sept 25th and return in December.
Thank you, all of you, for your unwavering focus, dedication and support over these past months, and for helping us to build something incredible. We are not done yet, and keep the momentum going!
Straight from the man himself, the intention and reason for the leave appears to be to catch up on family responsibility. As someone who has often traded work-related travel for home-based committments in future months, I understand this completely.
I have no doubt that Raja takes this leave with some reluctance. He built this team himself (for the most part) and my conversations with AMD employees always mention respect and appreciation for what he has been able to do. He loves the industry, he loves the technology, he loves the fans. That doesn't mean he can't or won't leave or be forced out if comes down to it, but it does give me hope that the potential for his return after the sabbatical is better than most other news outlets and pundits might lead us to believe.
For the interim, I have a lot of faith in Lisa Su to handle RTG. She has led AMD out of the CPU doldrums and into competitiveness for the first time in a decade. Any additional knowledge, experience, or input she can can gleam from her time as the lead at the Radeon Technologies Group can only be a benefit to AMD in the long run.
High Bandwidth Cache
Apart from AMD’s other new architecture due out in 2017, its Zen CPU design, there is no other product that has had as much build up and excitement surrounding it than its Vega GPU architecture. After the world learned that Polaris would be a mainstream-only design that was released as the Radeon RX 480, the focus for enthusiasts came straight to Vega. It’s been on the public facing roadmaps for years and signifies the company’s return to the world of high end GPUs, something they have been missing since the release of the Fury X in mid-2015.
Let’s be clear: today does not mark the release of the Vega GPU or products based on Vega. In reality, we don’t even know enough to make highly educated guesses about the performance without more details on the specific implementations. That being said, the information released by AMD today is interesting and shows that Vega will be much more than simply an increase in shader count over Polaris. It reminds me a lot of the build to the Fiji GPU release, when the information and speculation about how HBM would affect power consumption, form factor and performance flourished. What we can hope for, and what AMD’s goal needs to be, is a cleaner and more consistent product release than how the Fury X turned out.
The Design Goals
AMD began its discussion about Vega last month by talking about the changes in the world of GPUs and how the data sets and workloads have evolved over the last decade. No longer are GPUs only worried about games, but instead they must address profession workloads, enterprise workloads, scientific workloads. Even more interestingly, as we have discussed the gap in CPU performance vs CPU memory bandwidth and the growing gap between them, AMD posits that the gap between memory capacity and GPU performance is a significant hurdle and limiter to performance and expansion. Game installs, professional graphics sets, and compute data sets continue to skyrocket. Game installs now are regularly over 50GB but compute workloads can exceed petabytes. Even as we saw GPU memory capacities increase from Megabytes to Gigabytes, reaching as high as 12GB in high end consumer products, AMD thinks there should be more.
Coming from a company that chose to release a high-end product limited to 4GB of memory in 2015, it’s a noteworthy statement.
The High Bandwidth Cache
Bold enough to claim a direct nomenclature change, Vega 10 will feature a HBM2 based high bandwidth cache (HBC) along with a new memory hierarchy to call it into play. This HBC will be a collection of memory on the GPU package just like we saw on Fiji with the first HBM implementation and will be measured in gigabytes. Why the move to calling it a cache will be covered below. (But can’t we call get behind the removal of the term “frame buffer”?) Interestingly, this HBC doesn’t have to be HBM2 and in fact I was told that you could expect to see other memory systems on lower cost products going forward; cards that integrate this new memory topology with GDDR5X or some equivalent seem assured.
Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 14, 2016 - 09:55 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: rtg, radeon technologies group, Polaris, crimson, amd radeon, amd
It has now been a year since the formation of AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group and the graphics driven division has proven itself rather successful. Looking back with hindsight, AMD's new graphics division has enjoyed several wins with new products and advancements in driver support reclaiming market share from NVIDIA and new initiatives advancing VR, HDR, and open source visual effects.
Specifically, the Radeon Technologies Group, led by Raja Koduri, has managed to launch its new "Polaris" graphics architecture based on a 14nm FinFET process with the RX 400 series for consumers and the Radeon Pro Duo, Radeon Pro WX series, and Radeon Pro SSG (Solid State Graphics) for professionals. The company asl hit a milestone on FreeSync monitor design wins with a total of 101 displays launched to date.
Along with actual hardware, the graphics division has shaken up branding by rolling out new driver software under the Radeon Crimson Edition brand (with 21 driver releases since release) and dropping FirePro in favor of carrying over the Radeon name to create new Radeon Pro branding for its professional series of graphics cards. Driver support has also been enhanced on Linux and the AMDGPU-Pro driver works for RX 400 series.
Further, the Radeon Technologies Group launched its GPUOpen initiative back in December to foster the creation and advancement of free and open source visual effects and productivity code that developers are free to download, modify, and share.
Speaking of market share, AMD has managed to claw back some discrete GPU market share from a lowly 18% of GPUs in Q2 2015 to nearly 30% last quarter (Q2'16). That is a very respectable jump in just a year's time especially against NVIDIA's successful Pascal launches helped both by the price/performance of RX 400 as well as much needed focus on improving driver quality and timeliness of releases.
Where does this leave AMD and its RTG? Honestly, the graphics division is in a much better place than it was last year and it is in a decent position to survive and make a difference. There are still many unknowns and just as AMD's processor division is dependent on a successful Zen release, the graphics division will need Vega to be a hit in order for AMD to get wins on the high end and compete with NVIDIA on the flagship and performance fronts. They will further need Vega to update their professional series of cards many of which are still using the company's Fiji architecture which is not as power efficient as Pascal or future Volta (the competition).
With that said, the team had solid wins since their formation and are gearing up for the future. According to the announcement, the Radeon Technologies Group will be focusing on pushing virtual reality (VR) and HDR (high dynamic range) in gaming by working with developers, improving drivers, adding to their GPUOpen software collection, and launching new products.
From the press release:
"We’re passionate about perfecting pixels and delivering an unrivaled gaming experience for our community, and uncompromising power and creative freedom for developers and content creators. And if you think our first year was exciting, wait until you see what RTG has lined up for the future."
In the near future, Raja Koduri told Venture Beat to expect VR backpacks to be on show at CES in January and to look out for mobile Polaris graphics cards. Also, Radeon Crimson Edition may be incorporating features from recently acquired startup HiAlgo who developed software to dynamically monitor gameplay and adjust the resolution to maintain maximum frame rates and prevent overheating during long game sessions. One of their techniques called HiAlgo Switch would allow gamers to switch from full to half resolution (and back again) at the press of a hot-key button so as to keep FPS high if a gamer anticipates they are about to enter a demanding area that would normally result in low frame rates. While these techniques are not very important for desktop gaming (especially the CPU/GPU limiter to prevent overheating), all three would come in handy for mobile gamers using laptops with discrete cards or especially APUs.
I am looking forward to seeing where Raja and the RTG team go from here and what they have in store for AMD graphics.
Subject: Graphics Cards | April 11, 2016 - 11:23 AM | Ryan Shrout
Tagged: rtg, radeon technologies group, radeon, driver, crimson, amd
For longer than AMD would like to admit, Radeon drivers and software were often criticized for plaguing issues on performance, stability and features. As the graphics card market evolved and software became a critical part of the equation, that deficit affected AMD substantially.
In fact, despite the advantages that modern AMD Radeon parts typically have over GeForce options in terms of pure frame rate for your dollar, I recommended an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970, 980 and 980 Ti for our three different VR Build Guides last month ($900, $1500, $2500) in large part due to confidence in NVIDIA’s driver team to continue delivering updated drivers to provide excellent experiences for gamers.
But back in September of 2015 we started to see changes inside AMD. There was drastic reorganization of the company and those people in charge. AMD setup the Radeon Technologies Group, a new entity inside the organization that would have complete control over the graphics hardware and software directions. And it put one of the most respected people in the industry at its helm: Raja Koduri. On November 24th AMD launched Radeon Software Crimson, a totally new branding, style and implementation to control your Radeon GPU. I talked about it at the time, but the upgrade was noticeable; everything was faster, easier to find and…pretty.
Since then, AMD has rolled out several new drivers with key feature additions, improvements and of course, game performance increases. Thus far in 2016 the Radeon Technologies Group has released 7 new drivers, three of which have been WHQL certified. That is 100% more than they had during this same time last year when AMD released zero WHQL drivers and a big increase over the 1 TOTAL driver AMD released in Q1 of 2015.
Maybe most important of all, the team at Radeon Technologies Group claims to be putting a new emphasis on “day one” support for major PC titles. If implemented correctly, this gives enthusiasts and PC gamers that want to stay on the cutting edge of releases the ability to play optimized titles on the day of release. Getting updated drivers that fix bugs and improve performance weeks or months after release is great, but for gamers that may already be done with that game, the updates are worthless. AMD was guilty of this practice for years, having driver updates that would fix performance issues on Radeon hardware for reviewer testing but that missed the majority of the play time of early adopting consumers.
Thus far, AMD has only just started down this path. Newer games like Far Cry Primal, The Division, Hitman and Ashes of the Singularity all had drivers from AMD on or before release with performance improvements, CrossFire profiles or both. A few others were CLOSE to day one ready including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Plants vs Zombies 2 and Gears of War Ultimate Edition.
|Game||Release Date||First Driver Mention||Driver Date||Feature / Support|
|Rise of the Tomb Raider||01-28-2016||16.1.1||02-05-2016||Performance and CrossFire Profile|
|Plants vs Zombies 2||02-23-2016||16.2.1||03-01-2016||Performance|
|Gears Ultimate Edition||03-01-2016||16.3||03-10-2016||Performance|
|Far Cry Primal||03-01-2016||16.2.1||03-01-2016||CrossFire Profile|
|The Division||03-08-2016||16.1||02-25-2016||CrossFire Profile|
|Hitman||03-11-2016||16.3||03-10-2016||Performance, CrossFire Profile|
|Need for Speed||03-15-2016||16.3.1||03-18-2016||Performance, CrossFire Profile|
|Ashes of the Singularity||03-31-2016||16.2||02-25-2016||Performance|
AMD claims that the push for this “day one” experience will continue going forward, pointing at a 35% boost in performance in Quantum Break between Radeon Crimson 16.3.2 and 16.4.1. There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks and months to test AMD (and NVIDIA) on this “day one” focus with PC titles that will have support for DX12, UWP and VR.
The software team at RTG has also added quite a few interesting features since the release of the first Radeon Crimson driver. Support for the Vulkan API and a DX12 capability called Quick Response Queue, along with new additions to the Radeon settings (Per-game display scaling, CrossFire status indicator, power efficiency toggle, etc.) are just a few.
Critical for consumers that were buying into VR, the Radeon Crimson drivers launched with support alongside the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both of these new virtual reality systems are putting significant strain on the GPU of modern PCs and properly implementing support for techniques like timewarp is crucial to enabling a good user experience. Though Oculus and HTC / Valve were using NVIDIA based systems more or less exclusively during our time at the Game Developers Summit last month, AMD still has approved platforms and software from both vendors. In fact, in a recent change to the HTC Vive minimum specifications, Valve retroactively added the Radeon R9 280 to the list, giving a slight edge in component pricing to AMD.
AMD was also the first to enable full support for external graphics solutions like the Razer Core external enclosure in its drivers with XConnect. We wrote about that release in early March, and I’m eager to get my hands on a product combo to give it a shot. As of this writing and after talking with Razer, NVIDIA had still not fully implemented external GPU functionality for hot/live device removal.
When looking for some acceptance metric, AMD did point us to a survey they ran to measure the approval and satisfaction of Crimson. After 1700+ submission, the score customers gave them was a 4.4 out of 5.0 - pretty significant praise even coming from AMD customers. We don't exactly how the poll was run or in what location it was posted, but the Crimson driver release has definitely improved the perception that Radeon drivers have with many enthusiasts.
I’m not going to sit here and try to impart on everyone that AMD is absolved of past sins and we should immediately be converted into believers. What I can say is that the Radeon Technologies Group is moving in the right direction, down a path that shows a change in leadership and a change in mindset. I talked in September about the respect I had for Raja Koduri and interviewed him after AMD’s Capsaicin event at GDC; you can already start to see the changes he is making inside this division. He has put a priority on software, not just on making it look pretty, but promising to make good on proper multi-GPU support, improved timeliness of releases and innovative features. AMD and RTG still have a ways to go before they can unwind years of negativity, but the ground work is there.
The company and every team member has a sizeable task ahead of them as we approach the summer. The Radeon Technologies Group will depend on the Polaris architecture and its products to swing back the pendulum against NVIDIA, gaining market share, mind share and respect. From what we have seen, Polaris looks impressive and differentiates from Hawaii and Fiji fairly dramatically. But this product was already well baked before Raja got total control and we might have to see another generation pass before the portfolio of GPUs can change around the institution. NVIDIA isn’t sitting idle and the Pascal architecture also promises improved performance, while leaning on the work and investment in software and drivers that have gotten them to the dominant market leader position they are in today.
I’m looking forward to working with AMD throughout 2016 on what promises to be an exciting and market-shifting time period.
AMD Polaris Architecture Coming Mid-2016
In early December, I was able to spend some time with members of the newly formed Radeon Technologies Group (RTG), which is a revitalized and compartmentalized section of AMD that is taking over all graphics work. During those meetings, I was able to learn quite a bit about the plans for RTG going forward, including changes for AMD FreeSync and implementation of HDR display technology, and their plans for the GPUOpen open-sourced game development platform. Perhaps most intriguing of all: we received some information about the next-generation GPU architecture, targeted for 2016.
Codenamed Polaris, this new architecture will be the 4th generation of GCN (Graphics Core Next), and it will be the first AMD GPU that is built on FinFET process technology. These two changes combined promise to offer the biggest improvement in performance per watt, generation to generation, in AMD’s history.
Though the amount of information provided about the Polaris architecture is light, RTG does promise some changes to the 4th iteration of its GCN design. Those include primitive discard acceleration, an improved hardware scheduler, better pre-fetch, increased shader efficiency, and stronger memory compression. We have already discussed in a previous story that the new GPUs will include HDMI 2.0a and DisplayPort 1.3 display interfaces, which offer some impressive new features and bandwidth. From a multimedia perspective, Polaris will be the first GPU to include support for h.265 4K decode and encode acceleration.
This slide shows us quite a few changes, most of which were never discussed specifically that we can report, coming to Polaris. Geometry processing and the memory controller stand out as potentially interesting to me – AMD’s Fiji design continues to lag behind NVIDIA’s Maxwell in terms of tessellation performance and we would love to see that shift. I am also very curious to see how the memory controller is configured on the entire Polaris lineup of GPUs – we saw the introduction of HBM (high bandwidth memory) with the Fury line of cards.
Open Source your GPU!
As part of the AMD’s recent RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) Summit in Sonoma, the company released information about a new initiative to help drive development and evolution in the world of gaming called GPUOpen. As the name implies, the idea is to use an open source mentality to drivers, libraries, SDKs and more to improve the relationship between AMD’s hardware and the gaming development ecosystem.
When the current generation of consoles was first announced, AMD was riding a wave of positive PR that it hadn’t felt in many years. Because AMD Radeon hardware was at the root of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, game developers would become much more adept at programming for AMD’s GCN architecture and that would waterfall down to PC gamers. At least, that was the plan. In practice though I think you’d be hard pressed to find any analyst to put their name on a statement claiming that proclamation from AMD actually transpired. It just hasn’t happened – but that does not mean that it still can’t if all the pieces fall into place.
The issue that AMD, NVIDIA, and game developers have to work around is a divided development ecosystem. While on the console side programmers tend to have very close to the metal access on CPU and GPU hardware, that hasn’t been the case with PCs until very recently. AMD was the first to make moves in this area with the Mantle API but now we have DirectX 12, a competing low level API, that will have much wider reach than Mantle or Vulkan (what Mantle has become).
AMD also believes, as do many developers, that a “black box” development environment for tools and effects packages is having a negative effect on the PC gaming ecosystem. The black box mentality means that developers don’t have access to the source code of some packages and thus cannot tweak performance and features to their liking.
What RTG has planned for 2016
Last week the Radeon Technology Group invited a handful of press and analysts to a secluded location in Sonoma, CA to discuss the future of graphics, GPUs and of course Radeon. For those of you that seem a bit confused, the RTG (Radeon Technologies Group) was spun up inside AMD to encompass all of the graphics products and IP inside the company. Though today’s story is not going to focus on the fundamental changes that RTG brings to the future of AMD, I will note, without commentary, that we saw not a single AMD logo in our presentations or in the signage present throughout the week.
Much of what I learned during the RTG Summit in Sonoma is under NDA and will likely be so for some time. We learned about the future architectures, direction and product theories that will find their way into a range of solutions available in 2016 and 2017.
What I can discuss today is a pair of features that are being updated and improved for current generation graphics cards and for Radeon GPUs coming in 2016: FreeSync and HDR displays. The former is one that readers of PC Perspective should be very familiar with while the latter will offer a new window into content coming in late 2016.
High Dynamic Range Displays: Better Pixels
In just the last couple of years we have seen a spike in resolution for mobile, desktop and notebook displays. We now regularly have 4K monitors on sale for around $500 and very good quality 4K panels going for something in the $1000 range. Couple that with the increase in market share of 21:9 panels with 3440x1440 resolutions and clearly there is a demand from consumers for a better visual experience on their PCs.
But what if the answer isn’t just more pixels, but better pixels? We already have this discussed weekly when comparing render resolutions in games of 4K at lower image quality solutions versus 2560x1440 at maximum IQ settings (for example) but the truth is that panel technology has the ability to make a dramatic change to how we view all content – games, movies, productivity – with the introduction of HDR, high dynamic range.
As the slide above demonstrates there is a wide range of luminance in the real world that our eyes can see. Sunlight crosses the 1.6 billion nits mark while basic fluorescent lighting in our homes and offices exceeds 10,000 nits. Compare to the most modern PC displays that range from 0.1 nits to 250 nits and you can already tell where the discussion is heading. Even the best LCD TVs on the market today have a range of 0.1 to 400 nits.