Microsoft stole a high-end AMD Radeon GPU right from under PC gamers' noses | PCGamesN

Microsoft stole a high-end AMD Radeon GPU right from under PC gamers' noses

Polaris 10 GPU

It wasn’t just the cryptocurrency miners who robbed all of our AMD Radeon graphics cards. No-one’s talking about the fact that Microsoft, and their Xbox One X console in particular, stole away a potential GPU which could have become a PC gaming hero, the card that could have become the RX 490 and RX 590.

Check out our pick of the best graphics cards that actually did get released...

In all the excitement that surrounded the AMD Vega launch last year, it’s easy to forget team Radeon did actually release another new GPU generation in 2017. OK, the ‘excitement’ actually only predated  the Vega release, after launch it was all just angst, recriminations, and still no stock even if people did want the RX Vega 64 or AMD Vega 56.

Anyways, the AMD RX 500-series cards were a bit of a disappointment too given that, despite their Polaris Enhanced architecture, they were essentially just rebadged versions of the RX 480 and RX 470s that went before them. However frustrating the rehashed silicon might have been that still meant they were pretty decent GPUs in their own right. In fact, for a brief moment in time, the RX 580 got to the point where it was priced so aggressively against the competing Nvidia GTX 1060 that it became our pick as the best graphics card to buy.

A very brief moment in time, but we don’t want to get into the depressing world of discussing graphics card pricing again just yet…

AMD Radeon RX 480

While we had broad Radeon RX 400- and 500-series ranges come out of the AMD graphics card skunkworks, there was a definite sin by omission across both generations. When we were first introduced to the Polaris GPUs at an AMD event in Munich they presented us with a slide to explain the naming scheme behind the new RX series cards. A slide which offered a tantalising glimpse into the Radeon future.

It was pretty standard stuff, following a similar nomenclature to their previous generations of graphics card. The three number designation would split up so that the first number would indicate the generation, the second would indicate what tier the card lived in, and the third would be able to show whether this was the first or second revision of a particular SKU.

AMD RX numbering system

It’s that second number which is the most interesting as we’ve only ever had two of the three indicated tiers of Radeon graphics they were initially proposing. We never saw either an AMD Radeon RX 490 or 590, sporting the top-spec GPU that would offer more cores, a wider memory bus, and support for 4K resolutions.

You could argue that’s because they still haven’t been able to create a Polaris GPU which is actually capable of driving games at 4K, but that’s not strictly  true. There is an AMD Polaris graphics chip at the heart of Microsoft’s Xbox One X, and that’s being sold as a genuine 4K gaming console.

Scorpio GPU

The Scorpio GPU inside the Xbox One X isn’t completely identical to a desktop Polaris GPU, however. It is still essentially using the same AMD Graphics Core Next (GCN) 4.0 technology despite being built on TSMC’s 16nm production process, as opposed to the 14nm one used inside the 400- and 500-series Radeon cards.

What it does have is more compute units than the top-end AMD RX 580 Polaris card. The RX 580 has 36 CUs, delivering 2,304 GCN cores, while the Scorpio has a full 40 CUs and therefore 2,560 GCN cores. That’s a good chunk more graphics processing silicon that we know AMD could have built into a functional graphics card themselves. So we know they could have built a Polaris GPU with 40 GCN cores using the 16nm process, so you’d have to believe AMD would have been able to at least match that using their 14nm lithography. And probably push it a little further to incorporate a couple more CUs for shizzles and gizzles.

It could have been ours...

What sort of performance could you have gotten out of the RX 590 with 2,560 cores inside it? Despite only having another 11% more GPU componentry, the silicon delta between the RX 570 and RX 580 is the same and that translates into between 20-25% difference in baseline gaming performance. And if the RX 590 had retained the same 384-bit memory bus the Scorpio is rocking then that’s a percentage performance increase they would have easily matched.

Now Microsoft didn’t just grab all the potential 40 CU GPUs that AMD could make before they could slot them into a new card themselves. Microsoft licensed the design and had the Xbox One X chip manufactured as an APU with the 2,560 core Polaris GPU only making up one half of the processor / graphics equation. But there must be a reason why AMD chose not to manufacture their own 40 CU component. 

Intel Vega M Kaby Lake G chip

It’s possible that was a part of the licensing deal with Microsoft, that they wouldn’t create an essentially identical GPU themselves, particularly as AMD’s discrete graphics card variant would likely have ended up running with a higher frequency, and potentially faster performance, than Microsoft’s flagship console. That would never do. And that possibility does make me a little nervous for the possibility of seeing an AMD APU with the level of Vega M GPU power Intel have licensed for their Kaby Lake G processors. 

Obviously, that’s a rather moot point these days. Whatever Polaris GPUs AMD had released last year they would still be swallowed whole by the mining community, making its absence largely irrelevant. I just thought it was interesting (read: sad) that there was an entire potential PC gaming GPU that we never got to play with and yet the console cool kids are enjoying right now. 

It’s like Red Dead Redemption all over again...

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Dr0s4n avatarSkankwOn avatarTech Inquisition avatarDave James avatarValantar avatar
Dr0s4n Avatar
2 Weeks ago

Where are the consumers of the brand? Where are AMD Fans that do not manifest themselves, such as a total boycott of branded products, due to the lack of news and investment in the Computer, CPU and GPU sectors, which made this company what it is

AMD has left a market that has grown (Computer and PC Gaming) to venture into the console market that over time has made businesses go bankrupt.

The gain in the Consoles market is minimal, a market that is stagnated for 7 years without any innovation and change.

The PC and Gaming PC market is different, in a cycle of 6 months and 12 months, new technologies arise, R & D are essential because PCs and PC Gamer has always been synonymous with cutting-edge technology, even because the PC maintains this heated and live market, not only creating the Softwares as Technologies and innovations as Genres, Services like Kickstarter sectors like the Indies Market and so on.

Annually, the Preconfigured PC market can sell in 12 Months, 400 Million new Computers, 400 million in 365 days, where is an AMD? Where are your past partnerships with the OEM industry?

Last year, in 2017, the PC Hardware market (nVidia, Intel and AMD) hit a new record, surpassing $ 30 billion dollars.

It was recently revealed that AMD and nVidia in 3 months for PC Gamer market sell around 30 Million units of CHIPs Graphics!

Meanwhile the archaic consoles market is stagnant, so far from 2013 to 2018 it has not sold more than 100 million units sold (M $ + $ ONY + Nintendo), repeating in 5 years, a market where AMD delivers a PC Technologies as x86-64 at a banana price, with an extremely low gain (AMD's SoC market, which encompasses Xbox and PlayStation in those 5 years did not exceed 500 Million Revenue for AMD) a joke.

I find it funny how they like to use the PC market to save other markets, like Microsoft with Xbox, and AMD recently. Because without access to the technologies and innovations created by the PC over time, this without doubt would be the bottom of the well for this generation of Consoles. Remember Sony with CELL.

SkankwOn Avatar
2 Weeks ago

Well, I own a Freesync monitor and I sure am not planning on buying a new display for a good few years yet. So, here's one AMD "fanboy" - by screen choice anyway!

With Ryzen deemed a great success though at least we have hope for AMD's future. :)

Valantar Avatar
2 Weeks ago

I had to register here just to post this:

This is the most absurd, overblown, needlessly conspiratorial "news" post I've read in quite a while. And I read political news.

MS doesn't care what GPUs AMD makes, nor would AMD accept an agreement like that for a semi-custom part. It's not like the Xbox One X will sell /that/ many millions of units, after all. If AMD wanted to make a large Polaris GPU, they would have. PC GPU sales don't cannibalize Console sales. It's not like they would have been competing for yields (as the Scorpio Engine is an APU) nor fab capacity (as AMD doesn't make GPUs with TSMC unless they HAVE to).

Now, for more reasonable reasons why we didn't see bigger Polaris? How about the (at the time) imminent launch of Vega? Isn't that, you know, a slight roadblock? "Hey, why don't we push out a bigger version of our current arch, say, six months before we launch a new one? It's just a few hundred million dollars to get chip production going, right? That'll be fine, obviously. Foolproof plan." You know, I don't think that conversation is ever going to happen.

As for scaling: AMD made Fiji, for Pete's sake. They know how to make huge GPUs. Their GPU designs are extremely modular, letting them plunk together whatever parts they want/need, which is the whole reason why their semi-custom business works. While we don't know the exact limits of the 14nm process, we sure know they are bigger than 500mm2, as that's the size of Vega. So, essentially, AMD could have made 14nm Fiji V2 with Polaris tech - again, if they wanted to. They obviously didn't. Again: they were working on Vega for that market segment.

Now, AMD has been clear on their thinking on RAM scaling: they see HBM as the way to go for higher-end parts. Seeing how power-hungry and expensive (both in design and PCB costs) big GDDR5 buses are, this isn't that odd. They got burnt from the massive buses on the 290X and its ilk, which consumed MASSIVE amounts of power.

As for your thinking, of making a "40-plus-a-few" CU GPU - let's say it's 44 - what would the performance benefits be? You could possibly reach 25% average with a wide enough bus, but so what? That'd still be below the GTX 1070, while exceeding 200W of power (the RX 480 was 150W - add 22% power for eight more CUs and at least 30W for doubling the memory bus width (the memory on the RX 480 consumes 40-50W, according to GamersNexus) - that's 213W by straight extrapolation, not counting power delivery losses, cost increases (due to doubling the amount of memory dice to fill the new bus, among other things), and you'd still have a sub-par product.

AMD was waiting for Vega, its next HBM-equipped design. It's really that simple. As for Vega's performance, it's obviously a compute-focused design, so it looks like AMD is making a play for the enterprise and datacenter markets, with gaming taking the back seat somewhat. Which is fine, if that's what they need to get the financial resources to scale out into more designs in the future.

I'm holding off on upgrading my Fury X for a generation or two still (I want /at least/ 2x performance), and I'm hopeful that Navi and beyond will provide. Polaris, while a good design, was somewhat of a stopgap.

Dave James Avatar
2 Weeks ago

To be fair it's just an opinion piece, not a "news" story. I'd been looking back through some old benchmarks and just after the RX 480 launched there were a lot of rumours about a potential RX 490. It even appeared in AMD documentation as well. So I was just wondering out loud what the deal was. No conspiracy here.

With the nomenclature AMD set out for the original 400-series it seemed a lot like they were interested in creating a further design above the 480, especially as the x80 cards had always been second-tier parts in the past. Which is what they were shown as in the naming explanation shown above.

The 400-series cards were also a long way ahead of the Vega launch too, so I doubt that would have been the reason they backed off from it.

Your point about the power is possibly the more reasonable one, however. Polaris gets rather toasty...

Tech Inquisition Avatar
2 Weeks ago

Wait, you idiots recmmended GTX1060 over RX480?

Oh the retards.

Dave James Avatar
2 Weeks ago

Yup, when they launched the GTX 1060 was faster in a wider range of games than the RX 480 and either the same price or cheaper.

If one's faster and cheaper that's more likely to get our recmmendation.