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Summer will bring a GPU war

Analysis PR teams gear up for carnage
Fri May 02 2008, 18:05

THIS SUMMER WE are going to see an large scale GPU war, something we haven't really seen for a few years now. Nvidia may have all the headlines today , but ATI has been plotting and rebuilding for the 7xx series launch.

Last year, the mere suggestion of ATI doing well was laughed at, but the firm took the outright lead with the X2 cards and forced NV into the reactionary GX2. ATI can do three and four-way adequately, albeit with the the Broken OS, while NV can only do it in name. Same with the bucket called 'hybrid' for both power and frame rate.

ATI has been plotting a comeback, and the R770/R700 parts should take the outright lead once again. The trick to the cards is what we told you almost two years ago, no more big GPUs.

You saw a little of that with the 3870X2, but the bridge was a simple PCIe switch. The real magic this time is a bridge that shares memory, GDDR5 in this case. Yup, you will have 2 GPUs with one set of memory.

This simplifies designs, lowers chip cost, and speeds time to market. You get two full variants for the design cost of 1.25, and you are on the happy end of the cost/area curve for fabbing silicon. While the early word on GT200 is that it is again 500mm^2+, ATI will have 2x chips that are much smaller, which translates into a huge cost advantage.

The other nice thing is that the bridge should keep the GPUs hidden from the system. This has a disadvantage of hard-wiring in the Crossfire modes leaving a little performance on the table, but when you have two of them in the system, it looks like two GPUs, not four. One look at the 1 -> 2 -> 4 scaling rates will show what a win that is.

What it comes down to in the end is that ATI looks to have built up a technological lead that NV is reacting to. It is the same thing that happened about the time when NV first released SLI, it had all the answers and ATI had to catch up. Now the tables are turned.

Another interesting change is on the PR side. NV has been mouthing off to anyone who won't run away fast enough while ATI has been silent. Some minor reshuffling at the ATI PR camp says that they are prepping for an outright hot war. As you know, it is always the silent ones that are the most trouble.

This summer we will see both trends come to a head, a new resurgent ATI technological lineup with a PR team willing to beat heads to get the job done. NV will be playing catchup with a long list of paper technologies and a few real ones.

The shouting should be pretty intense, and with Intel flipping sides, things will be all the more interesting. µ


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