Radeon Surprise: AMD Introduces Chip-Powered RDNA 3 RX 7000 Graphics Card
The next generation of graphics cards from AMD are just around the corner, and they promise to be game-changing whether or not they turn out to be performance leaders. Indeed, the upcoming AMD Radeon RX 7000 series of graphics cards will be AMD’s first based on a chip design, according to comments from President and CEO Dr. Lisa Su at the Ryzen 7000 launch event in society today. She also reiterated, in passing, AMD’s launch date later this year for the first of these next-generation graphics cards, which will be based on the upcoming RDNA 3 architecture and 5nm process technology.
If you’ve been following AMD’s Ryzen processors, you might realize how important the chiplet aspect of this tease is, and you should too know that this is something that could help reduce the cost of GPUs. Before we get to the hints that Dr. Su dropped, let’s get a bit of context.
First, some background: Chiplets vs. Monoliths
Chiplet designs aren’t exactly new, but recently we’ve seen AMD and now Intel take them to new heights. Essentially, a chip design consists of two or more independent silicon chips that have been tightly coupled into a single package. For illustration, see this image from Intel, which shows a conventional single-chip silicon package on the left and a silicon package with four chips in the center and right.
The use of chiplets is important because it can facilitate the development of different products and help reduce production costs. When creating processors from silicon, a small defect anywhere on the chip can render the entire chip non-functional. This makes large chips that have larger surface areas more prone to such lethal defects, and they are more expensive to manufacture due to the extra time and resources used in their production. In contrast, smaller chips may be cheaper to produce for the opposite reasons.
Say, for example, you have a chip with an area of 20 mm2. Next, you create four chips, each with an area of 5mm2 and a cumulative area of 20mm2. The large chip is then exactly the same size as the four smaller chips, and its production may have required roughly the same amount of resources. If a speck of dust lands anywhere on this large 20mm2 die during manufacture, it could be completely destroyed. Conversely, if that speck landed on one of those other four chips, then only that 5mm2 die would be destroyed, meaning you waste less resources overall.
This is a key benefit of using smaller chips, but it’s not the only benefit. Chiplets also allow greater flexibility in product creation. Using a traditional chip design approach, AMD would have to design and manufacture multiple iterations of a graphics chip to power the full product line. In the Ryzen RX 6000 series, for example, AMD created four chips: Navi 21, Navi 22, Navi 23, and Navi 24.
The AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT (Credit: Zlata Ivleva)
Some GPUs will have the full chip enabled, while other GPUs will have a partially disabled chip to create slightly inferior products. The Radeon RX 6900 XT, for example, has 5,120 stream processors, while the Radeon RX 6800 XT has 4,608 stream processors, even though both contain a Navi 21 chip. This again, however, wastes some amount of resources.
Using multiple smaller chips can be more economical in this regard. If, for example, AMD creates RDNA 3 chips with, say, 1,024 streaming processors each, the company could use five of those chips together to build a graphics card with a similar number of streaming processors like the Radeon RX 6900 XT. . At the same time, it could create a budget graphics card using just one of these chiplets. Not only does this waste fewer resources, but it also streamlines production because you have to create a single chip and package it in different configurations, instead of making multiple chips.
Nothing in life is free, however, and there is a performance penalty associated with using chiplets. The different parts of the chip are able to communicate with each other faster in a single-chip design than in a chiplet design. So it becomes a balancing act of weighing the pros and cons of each solution. Large monolithic chips have been a favorite of the CPU and GPU worlds for decades.
Chiplets didn’t really become widely used until AMD launched its first generation of Ryzen processors, and given the success of that, it seems clear that AMD thinks it can benefit its card business as well. graphics.
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What we now know about RDNA 3
In short: not a together plot. We’ll have to wait and see how this launch pans out. At this time, we have few details on RDNA 3 or the upcoming Radeon RX 7000 graphics card series, other than the information in today’s event, which reinforces statements made at a AMD Investor Conference last summer. That said, today’s announcement by Dr. Su, by the way, suggests that a new generation Radeon is not far away. Indeed, the cards are up and running.
At the end of his Ryzen 7000 presentation today in Austin, TX, Dr. Su showed off a rendered image of an RDNA 3-based GPU, followed by a demonstration of the board in action. You can see a replay of the announcement stream here, and for the good stuff around RDNA 3, fast forward to around 31 minutes…
In the demo, the card was running the NeoWiz escape game Lies of P(Opens in a new window) in 4K and Ultra settings, to what seemed like a smooth level of performance. The CPU it was paired with was the recently announced, yet to be released 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X flagship. We were also told (consistent with the original investor conference claims) that the Radeon RX 7000 series will have cards with 50% more performance per watt than their predecessors, which is pretty impressive… assuming that walking.
Listen carefully, and Dr. Su mentions casually around 32 minutes, “I can’t wait to tell you more about that when we launch later this year.” So: no firm date yet, but don’t expect Ryzen 7000 to be AMD’s last big word in the consumer PC component market this year. The next-gen Radeon still seems to be on track for 2022. Stay tuned.
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