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Is AMD's New Fury GPU A Titan-Killer?

480 million pixels per second?

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AMD wheeled out a whole new family of graphics cards at E3 this week. And there was much rejoicing. Well, there was much scripted triumphalism on the keynote stage, at any rate. I say a whole new family. Inevitably, there’s some (read: a lot of) rebadging of existing GPUs. But there is one entirely new GPU, known as Fury. It’s an absolute beast and it costs a bomb. So not many of us will be buying it. But it does debut that snazzy new HBM memory tech. Anyway, as Uncle Ben would say and would probably make for more compelling dialogue than the gunk that actually makes the big-screen cut, with new GPU badges sometimes comes much improved value for money…

(As ever, TL;DR at the bottom.)

First up, the graphics chip known as Fiji. This is the properly new one and it’ll be flogged under the new ‘Fury’ branding. Fury does for AMD what Titan does for Nvidia. In other words, it’s a standalone sub-brand sitting at the very top of the range.

Fiji is an absolute monster with 8.9 billion transistors and no fewer than 4,096 of AMD’s GCN stream processors. Silly numbers and enough for symbolic victories in the PR war versus Nvidia.

The Titan X, you see, is a piffling 8 billion transistors and 3,072 CUDA cores. Not that GCN processors and CUDA are remotely comparable. But who cares? 4,096 is a lot more than 3,072! How do you like them apples, Nvidia?

A more direct comparison is with AMD’s outgoing flagship GPU, Hawaii, as found in the Radeon R9 290X. That packs 6.2 billion transistors and 2,816 GCN processors. Since Fiji is based on a lightly revised AMD GCN architecture, you can get a rough idea of the raw shader power on offer.

Fury X will be water-cooled as standard

For those of you who like numbers, other key metrics include 256 texture units, 64 ROPs and a core clock just over 1GHz.

Where Fiji definitely differs from AMD GPUs passim is its memory subsystem. In this age of bonkers panel resolutions, graphics cards are having to pump millions of pixels upwards of 60 times a second to achieve really smooth gaming.

4K at 60 frames per second means pushing roughly 480 million fully processed pixels out to your monitor every second. It’s pure insanity when you think about it in those terms. How is that actually possible at the same time as the BIOS on my motherboard taking 10 seconds simply to wake the f’up?

Anyway, at modern resolutions bandwidth is a major issue and AMD has decided to shake things up with a new memory tech known as HBM or High Bandwidth Memory. I’ve covered this previously, but the basics of HBM involve stacking memory chips in 3D-style à la 3D SSDs and sticking those stacks on the same package as the GPU.

HBM memory makes for mega bandwidth but also frame buffer limitations…

Oh, and with HBM comes a mega-wide memory bus, in the case of Fiji it’s fully 4,096 bits wide. Cue ghastly marketing puns regards 4K memory tech.

Anyway, the upshot is a big uptick in bandwidth despite using slower clocked memory. Fiji is good for as much as 512GB/s. Crumbs. For context, using old tech AMD cards topped out at 384GB/s.

There is, however, a snag. Putting the memory on the same package as the graphics chip in this new stacked format has lead to limitations in terms of the amount of memory. A Fiji GPU-plus-HBM package is limited to 4GB of memory.

How much of a limitation that will be in practice is currently unknown. But I personally don’t like the look of it in the context of the bullish noises AMD has been making about 4K and 5K performance for the new GPU.

In any case, AMD hasn’t dished all the details yet, but here’s what we know. There will be four Fury boards. The single-GPU performance leader will be the R9 Fury X with water cooling as standard. The plain old R9 Fury will be air cooled. Both of those will launch shortly. Pricing is $649 and $549 respectively. Call that £550 and £450 in old money with the Chancellor’s 20 per cent cut.

Two Fijis, one board…

Later this year there will also be a dual-Fiji Crossfire board, but arguably the most interesting of the new Fijis is the R9 Fury Nano. This is a titchy 6-inch board. AMD hasn’t provided full specifications, but it’s likely to lose some of the functional units but still be the most powerful card yet in this kind of form factor. Nano arrives later this summer and could be killer for small form factor rigs.

Speaking of performance, AMD was pretty cagey. 1.5x versus the old 290X was the repeated refrain. But direct comparisons with Nvidia’s Titan X came there none. Combined with the pricing, it therefore seems that Fury X will be second best in pure performance terms. Which is fine, given that it’s cheaper, but still a pity for AMD in PR terms if true.

Finally, even the top Fury X board is rated at 275 watts, only a little higher than the 290X. Not bad considering AMD remains stuck on 28nm silicon tech, just like Nvidia. In fact, in that context Fiji is about as good as you could reasonably hope for given that a die shrink and smaller, more efficient transistors still aren’t available to AMD.

The Fury Nano six incher is the most interesting new board

As for those rebadges, well, say hello to the Radeon R7 and R9 300 series. At the top we have the 390X for $429, which is essentially the same as a 290X but packs 8GB and immediately makes for an awkward comparison with the 4GB Fury boards.

By the same token, the new 390 is basically the old 290 priced at $329, the 380 is the old 285, yours for £199 for the 4GB version. Finally, the the new R7 370 is a dead ringer for the old R7 265 at $149 and the R7 360 looks just like the old R7 260 but at $109. UK numbers aren’t currently available, but keep your scanners peeled to the usual online retail susepects.

With AMD’s production partner TSMC largely responsible for keeping the graphics industry stuck at 28nm, the carry-over technology is perhaps predictable. Then again, Nvidia made the most of a bad situation by developing its undeniably impressive Maxwell tech that really does seem to deliver the benefits of a die shrink in terms of both performance and efficiency despite also being stuck on 28nm silicon.

Those (not very) new 300 series boards in full

AMD’s GCN tech remains great for gaming. But it’s not as space efficient as Nvidia’s Maxwell tech and it’s very likely that hurts AMD margins. Not good if you believe that a healthy AMD is crucial for the health of PC graphics in general.

Whatever, the immediate appeal of AMD’s new 300 series will come down to pricing. As the 290 was before, I have a feeling the new 390 will be the sweet spot for really serious gamers. An 8GB 390 for circa $300 / sub-£250 would be very tempting.

TL;DR
AMD has a new mega GPU. It’s called Fury and it looks to be about 1.5x more powerful than the old 290X. But probably not as fast as Nvidia’s Titan X. Thanks to a fancy new high-bandwidth memory tech design for the demands of really high resolutions, Fury boards are limited to 4GB, which ironically could be a problem at 4K resolutions and beyond.

AMD has also launched a new family of Radeon R7 and R9 300 boards. These are essentially rebadges of AMD’s existing R7 and R9 200 Series. Some of which are themselves rebadges. Fun, fun, fun.

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Jeremy Laird

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