The upcoming AMD Navi graphics cards will deliver our first taste of a wholly new Radeon GPU design since Vega – although that has just been given a fresh lick of paint with the AMD Radeon VII gaming GPU just announced over at CES. The next-gen 7nm Navi GPUs will most likely be specced to dominate the mid-range market rather than try and go toe-to-toe with Nvidia’s Turing GPUs at the high end.
Sadly, Dr. Su only mentioned Navi once in her CES keynote, and that was in an off-hand manner mentioning upcoming architectures in her wrapping up. Though she did confirm there would indeed be next-generation GPUs coming this year…
And our industry sources have suggested it’s not too far-fetched to think the red team will manage to get its long-awaited graphics architecture onto the shelves in time for a 2019 launch in the first half of this year.
But why should you wait for the next 7nm Radeon GPU? The new AMD Navi GPU architecture will most likely be the direct successor to the current mid-range Polaris 500-series graphics cards, and not the more recent, more high-end RX Vega architecture. That’s being followed up by AMD’s Radeon VII graphics card, recently announced by Lisa Su over in Las Vegas and promising Nvidia RTX 2080 comparable performance.
AMD CTO, Mark Papermaster, recently intimated that its starting the 2019 GPU refresh at the high-end with the Radeon VII, which makes us almost 100% confident AMD will be replacing the Polaris architecture with Navi. With the brand new, $699 7nm Vega gaming card announced at CES, it seems more likely than ever.
AMD Navi release date
AMD’s roadmaps have indicated a launch sometime in 2019. We’ve heard from industry sources stating June-July is a realistic launch window for the new cards, and recent rumours have compounded that estimate. There was some expectation of a CES launch, but that was superseded by the announcement of the Radeon VII.
AMD Navi specs
The 14nm Vega 10 and Polaris 10 GPUs, used in the RX Vega and RX 500-series cards respectively, hold a total of 4,096 Stream Processors for Vega and 2,304 inside the Polaris chip. Thanks to the 7nm process, AMD could fit roughly 1.6x more logic into the same die space with Navi… if TSMC’s numbers are to be believed.
AMD Navi pricing
Pricing all depends on whether AMD target the high-end or mid-range markets with Navi. This will likely also affect whether AMD utilise pricey HBM2 memory or GDDR6. A midrange RX 680 could be somewhere in the realm of $330 to $400 at most.
AMD Navi performance
It’s still far too early to guess at performance figures, and the recent rumours seem worse than spurious. However, Navi will likely be pretty adept with the Vulkan API, and should be a little more efficient than 12nm Polaris or Vega thanks to the 7nm process.
The first graphics cards featuring AMD’s Navi architecture are rumoured to launch by the end of Q1 2019. Computex saw AMD launch its first 7nm graphics card, the 7nm Vega for Radeon Instinct, but rumours whizzing around the back alleys of the conference hall indicated that Navi wouldn’t be far behind.
Current roadmaps from team red indicate a 7nm Navi is “on track” for launch sometime in 2019. However, these public roadmaps aren’t all that specific and AMD has a huge amount of leeway as to when Navi’s release window is set. It does have a laser focus on nailing a consistent roadmap, so we can be pretty sure Navi will be launched in 2019.
A couple of industry sources, however, have indicated to us AMD is aiming for a Q1 release, but have said a more realistic launch window would be sometime around June. With the AMD RX 590 already on the market, and the Radeon VII GPU assumed to be nearly ready to roll, a Computex announcement wouldn’t be a surprise.
Indeed some recent rumours on RedGamingTech have pegged Navi for a June reveal and a July launch. That would perfectly tie-in with a Computex teaser, around the same time as the 3rd Gen Ryzen CPUs, and a subsequent detailed unveiling in June, with a launch the following month.
According to sources inside AMD, speaking to Fudzilla, AMD has Navi in the labs for testing. Supposedly, performance for the 7nm GPU is better than expected, but that doesn’t really count for all that much this early in the game.
AMD already confirmed that Navi would be ready for both GDDR6 and HBM2 memory. The speedier GDDR memory tech is already in mass production from the big three memory manufacturers – Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron.
“I remember the ATI / Nvidia days, this every year,” says David Wang, senior VP of engineering, alternating one hand ahead of the other. “I think that’s how you make this business so excitement, so interesting. That’s how you make gamers so excited about new hardware every year.”
It’s not yet confirmed whether team red will opt for the RX 600-series nomenclature, or name the cards RX Navi, like it did with the AMD Vega architecture. There have even been some rumours AMD could try one-upping Nvidia and call the new cards the RX 3080, etc. But that might be setting itself up for a fall…
For most of the time Navi’s been in the public eye – albeit in name only – it’s been widely speculated that the next Radeon gaming graphics cards would consist of a multi-chip module design. That means, rather than a single monolithic GPU, Navi would instead feature multiple GPUs strung together, and working in unison, through a high-speed interconnect.
AMD already has an interconnect ready to go called Infinity Fabric. You might recognise it from AMD’s Ryzen and Epyc CPUs. This silicon ‘fabric’ connects up multiple CCXs, or core modules, within AMD’s current chips and allows them to communicate and function as a single unit. It’s also been used in the current Vega architecture design as an interconnect between the GPU die and the High Bandwidth Cache Controller communicating with the HBM2 memory.
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Ex-AMD Radeon chief, Raja Koduri, fueled rumours of a potential MCM GPU design for Navi when he claimed Infinity Fabric was core to all of the red team’s future designs.
“Infinity Fabric allows us to join different engines together on a die much easier than before,” Koduri says. “As well it enables some really low latency and high-bandwidth interconnects. This is important to tie together our different IPs together efficiently and quickly. If forms the basis of all of our future ASIC designs.
“We haven’t mentioned any multi-GPU designs on a single ASIC, like Epyc, but the capability is possible with Infinity Fabric.”
But, while AMD has the tech to squeeze even more low-performing and high-yield silicon into one graphics card with Infinity Fabric, it’s not as easy to actually get the card recognised by the system as a single graphics processing unit, David Wang, senior VP of engineering at AMD, explains.
“We are looking at the MCM type of approach,” says Wang, “but we’ve yet to conclude that this is something that can be used for traditional gaming graphics type of application.
“Anything’s possible… But you know if you think about this big GPU it’s actually multiple pipelines, multiple rendering interfaces, so in theory you can slice it in half. But the devil’s in the details because when you slice in half and you’ve got to make the interface invisible to a programmer, that means your interface has to be very wide and very, very high-speed so that it can look and feel like one chip. That’s the complexity. Because it’s hard to be done that way, that’s why people do CrossFire because that communication’s centred around a narrow, fast interface.
“Do you make that interface indefinitely wide and fast so it feels like a single die? But then it will become a physical implementation issue, whether that can be done.”
So maybe Navi won’t be the multi-chip monster that punters were hopeful for. If AMD was working on a MCM Navi chip for launch in a mere eight months, you’d expect the chief engineer behind its implementation to be a little more convinced on the MCM concept as a whole.
When AMD has been pushed into a corner in the past by the green team, it’s often released dual GPUs packaged together into a single graphics card to take on the top-end of Nvidia’s lineup. However, Crossfire and multi-GPU systems account for such a small quantity of gamers nowadays that developers just don’t make an effort to support these systems – so there goes that idea.
However, it has recently been discovered that the new 7nm Vega 20 cards will use AMD’s xGMI feature – a peer-to-peer interconnect built form the foundations of Infinity Fabric – which can offer GPU bandwidth higher than PCIe 3.0, rivalling Nvidia’s NVLink. Nvidia also bought its high-end workstation-class GPU link technology to the RTX 20-series graphics cards.
If we see anything linking Navi to xGMI in the future we’ll know that AMD is doubling down on multi-GPU. And it has said that multi-GPU compute is one of its aims for the future of Radeon Rays, it’s own real-time ray tracing solution…
At least in the memory department we’re a little more sure of what to expect. Wang confirmed to us at Computex 2018 that AMD would be approaching gamers graphics cards with a focus on the most cost-effective and best performing memory for that segment – and that has to be GDDR6 memory right now.
“In a workstation/datacentre segment they’ll be more than happy potentially to pay the premium” Wang says regarding HBM2 memory. “But that technology may or may not be suitable for the mass majority of casual gamers. So I think different technologies might be more suitable for difference price segments.”
That doesn’t mean HBM memory is entirely relegated to the scrap heap, it has just been revived for the Radeon VII, but GDDR6 looks like the best fit for mainstream gamers. In either eventuality, Navi is prepped for use with both GDDR6 and HBM. If Navi is truly set to be the successor to the RX 500-series, GDDR6 will aid AMD in hitting the best balance between price/performance.
Navi is also rumoured to be the last graphics card built with the GCN architecture, in its current form, at its core.
Pricing speculation is a torrid affair this early in the game. AMD’s pricing entirely depends on the market segment Navi is geared toward once it launches. If the next-gen Navi chips really are headed for the mid-range segment as a Polaris GPU replacement, then the top AMD card can’t be any more than $400.
“I think the engineering always shoots for excellency,” Wang says. “…and that’s what I set out to do. For example, not just when it comes to performance, but performance per watt. Not just the highest performance, but performance-per-dollar. I think taking into consideration the power envelope but also the die size or the cost constraints.
“I think performance-per-Watt, in my mind, sets a topline ASP [average selling price] we can charge, and the performance-per-area, or per-dollar, sets a bottom line as our cost. So we need to continue to improve our performance-per-dollar or per-area and push out our performance-per-Watt. That would give our business guys much more room to improve margins – that’s what I’m set out to do.”
Wang’s comments definitely indicate a wish to make Navi competitive on price/performance – as was the focus with Polaris back when it first launched.
Even though we have zero benchmarks to go on at this point, and only a slight idea as to the market AMD are targeting with Navi, one of the few things we do know about this next-gen architecture is that it is going to be built on the 7nm FinFET process node. By GlobalFoundries own numbers, this extremely dense node delivers twice the logic density, which accounts for a huge performance boost of roughly 40% compared to the current 14nm FinFET node or a drastic increase in power efficiency.
But GlobalFoundries has since given up on 7nm, leaving TSMC to be the sole supplier for AMD’s future products in both the CPU and GPU departments.
Just how much of TSMC’s 7nm node performance AMD will be able to draw out of the GCN architecture is not yet known. Despite the natural enhancements of the node, the performance will still largely come down to AMD’s own ingrained enhancements within the architecture.
Yet AMD’s first gaming card on the 7nm process node, Radeon VII, is boasting a hella good performance bump over its predecessor. AMD are touting frames on par with Nvidia’s RTX 2080. We don’t know all the details of this card just yet, but that’s some seriously impressive numbers from the first 7nm transfusion.
There have been a slew of rumours about Navi’s eventual performance, ranging from it being ‘as bad as Vega,’ through to recent massively unreliable rumours suggesting GTX 1080 performance for just $250. Or maybe RTX 2080 performance for $250. Depends who you ask, which direction the wind is blowing, and who made up this particular bit of headline-baiting rumour-mongering.
As for power efficiency, this is something that David Wang has made clear is a top priority with the next-generation of graphics cards. The benefits of which has already been made apparent to team red with its first 7nm GPU, 7nm Vega Radeon Instinct for machine learning. GDDR6 memory is also set to improve performance over the last generations GDDR5 and GDDR5X.
“With the Vega 7nm we packed more and more stuff,” Wang told us at Computex, “and the power looks fantastic. Definitely a lot lower than the current Vega. That’s no magic, just the geometry scaling.”