SPEAKING WITH AMD's 5800-series Product Manager, Dave Baumann, we tried to get him to share a bit of his wisdom.
Over the past few weeks consumers, AIBs and distributors alike have been concerned about AMD's availability on its flagship 5800-series graphics cards, or rather, anything built on 40nm coming out of TSMC's ovens. It now seems there was some reason to worry, but AMD has promised to get things sorted in no time.
We rang up AMD to get its input on what's going on, just in case Saint Nick had a different idea on what to stick down our stockings. Dave Baumann took the lead and we fired off a few volleys of questions. Dave Baumann is Product Manager for the 5800-series graphics cards and the guy to quiz on all things Evergreen related.
The conversation started off with the rather blunt question, "What's up with this TSMC yields deal?" Not the most subtle of approaches, we must confess, but it set the tone for the call.
Dave Baumann explained that right off the block, wafers were coming out every week. "Thousands per week with AIBs. Tens of thousands in the next weeks." Sounds like good news, of course, but the chip was naturally harder to make. "It is a much bigger chip, higher priced and with different TAM expectations," added Baumann. And when compared to its predecessor, the "RV770 was a much higher volume chip anyway."
Apparently the problem occurred seven weeks ago at TSMC. Although AMD didn't disclose the reason for what happened, production was stunted and the master marketing plan was pushed out six weeks - but not launch dates, mind you. As mentioned by Charlie Demerjian in his article here, AMD sources seem to be as much in the dark about the specifics of what happened as we are. Baumann insisted that despite the constraint overall yields have been increasing steadily.
We asked, "How will this affect the introduction of the value offerings (Redwood, Cedar) next year?"
"These cards will still be launched in early 2010 - quarter one - and this has not changed our plan," said Baumann.
Concerning what AMD's expectations had been in terms of yield and just how much had that fallen short, he added "Yield is a little off, but not too far off. Availability is widespread right now, there's lots of product on the shelf."
We subtly nudged, "Are you considering other fabs?"
"No," said the Baumann. "There are currently no other fabs equipped to handle our production."
We quizzed, "How much of that is 5800-series and how much is 5700-series?"
"Well," said Baumann, "5800 to 5700 is about 2- or 3-to-1."
Of course we were forced to ask about Hemlock, the company's current flagship. Getting one graphics card to the market is hard enough, but a 2-in-1 is twice as hard.
"Hemlock," said Baumann, "is targeted at the ultra-enthusiast market. There is a reasonable fringe of users where Hemlock is targeted towards." We can read that as, no matter what we price it, we'll never meet the demand we have for it. Baumann continued, "We are introducing this because we expect to see an increase in output within the next few weeks."
The naming question was imminent, "Why a 5970 and not a 5870X2 name?"
Dave explained that "the previous generation X2 messed with the 4890 and people were confused."
This was followed by a "My oh my, that is a huge card" comment from your humble narrator.
The card follows the PCIe SIG specification, rather than going off-spec - that is, sandwiched PCBs, wider cards, and so on. That way, both power and form factor are preserved and anyone who builds cased according to spec shouldn't have a problem.
"You won't be putting it into mini-towers," added Baumann.
Yeah, well, at least not until a mini-PC or LAN Party PC maker or even a clever modder sorts that out. The card's power components are in fact built to withstand a huge 400W TDP, but AMD kept things in check to conform to PCIe standards, just shy of 300W.
Regarding the specs, AMD admitted it is "neither twice the 5870 nor twice the 5850, but somewhere in between."
"There will be a demand constraint," enthused Baumann - as if that's a good thing. "We don't actively expect to meet the demand. We do expect to produce more Cypress ASICs and get them into the channel. That's a common question we got asked."
In other words, people will sell their own mothers to grab these, so no matter what AMD does it won't be able to supply the market with enough cards.
With that, we concluded the call.
So, wrapping up. As of the last week of November, AMD is promising to step up shipments by a factor of 10, something we'd heard before. From thousands to tens of thousands of chips going out to the partners so they can get them to stores on time for that most pagan of rituals, Christmas. AMD doesn't think it'll miss out on the season.
AMD doesn't seem to mind much about the delays, unexpected as they may be. As they put it time and again, theirs is "the only game in town", referring of course to DirectX 11 support. With Vista recently getting its shot of DirectX 11 features, the only reason not to upgrade right now is really availability, isn't it?
Is there constraint? Well, there's no question about that. Is the problem major? Well, yes. Considering AMD can step up output by a factor of 10 it sounds like a major issue at TSMC. Will there be enough cards by Christmas? Yes and No, according to AMD. There will be a lot more around to blow your precious cash gifts on, but not as many as AMD would have desired in the first place. µ