A few minutes ago AMD wrapped up a somewhat impromptu conference call, which had been called together to reiterate the company’s 2013 GPU plans. While there is technically very little new here that we don’t already know – especially if you can read between the lines on previous AMD announcements – AMD wanted to clarify things after what has been a rather wild week for their PR department. And true to their word, they delivered clarity by the truckload.

Since we’ve been avoiding this ruckus so far until we could get clarification, let’s quickly discuss the past week. The instigator for AMD’s wild week was a somewhat infamous 4Gamer.net article published last Saturday. In that article 4Gamer published the following roadmap slide from AMD, which was then confirmed as real by AMD when multiple AMD Twitter accounted re-tweeted a tweet about the article.

AMD slide courtesy 4Gamer.net

The slide stated, to the amazement of many, that AMD’s product lineup would be “stable throughout 2013”. And although that slide is technically correct, how it’s been interpreted has spawned quite a bit of ballyhoo. It’s this ballyhoo that AMD wants to clear up, hence today’s call.

Diving right into things, for those of you that only follow the desktop side of things, in late 2012 AMD announced their 8000M series products. The 8000M series was a mix of new parts and refreshes in order to satiate AMD’s OEM partners, who are accustomed to having a yearly product cadence of parts so that they can update their laptops accordingly. The fact that this was a mix of rebands and new parts, and that AMD at the time was hesitant to name those parts, made the whole thing murkier than it needed to be for tech enthusiasts, who are accustomed to seeing one or the other.

AMD later confirmed what was what in the 8000M series; the 8500M, 8600M, and 8700M parts were all based on a new GCN GPU codenamed Mars, which was part of AMD’s GCN-based Solar Systems family. AMD at the time also stated that they will be introducing new 8000M parts in Q2 of this year, in the process implying that these will be products based on new GPUs in the Solar Systems family.

Meanwhile in January AMD’s OEM desktop lineup got a similar overhaul. The Sea Islands product family – the desktop code name for the same GPU family as Solar Systems – saw its first product release when AMD announced the 8500 and 8600 OEM families, which were based on the same Oland/Mars GPU that the previous month’s mobile parts were based on. At the same time AMD rebadged a bunch of other desktop 7000 series parts into the 8000 OEM series, with Cape Verde, Pitcairn, and Tahiti products all making the jump.

AMD Codename Cheat Sheet
Mobile Desktop
London (Family) Southern Islands (Family)
Solar Systems (Family) Sea Islands (Family)
Mars Oland
Chelsea/Heathrow Cape Verde
Wimbledon Pitcairn

The fact that these previous product announcements are seemingly at odds with AMD’s slide is where reading between the lines comes in handy, and unfortunately that’s not a talent that comes naturally. In fact AMD’s mobile roadmap has almost everything you need to know, but you need to be able mesh it with AMD’s published desktop roadmap, which is one of the things today’s call put to rest.

So first and foremost, AMD has reiterated that they’re continuing to work on Sea Islands/Solar Systems, and that we haven’t seen all of the Sea Islands chips yet. At the same time AMD also made clear that Sea Islands is based on the same architecture as Southern Islands – the first generation of Graphics Core Next (GCN1) – and that these parts are essentially just new configurations that we didn’t see with Southern Islands. This is why Oland is architecturally and feature-wise indistinguishable from previous GCN parts, and why it fits in to AMD’s product stack where it does.

AMD's FAD2012 Roadmap

Of course AMD won’t comment on specific details about future products, but the fact that they have additional chips in the pipeline lines up nicely with their mobile roadmap and when we can expect to see these new Sea Islands GPUs. With their annual rebadging out of the way, AMD’s mobile roadmap makes it clear they intend to replace the 7900M and 7800M (Pitcairn) with some kind of new part, and while AMD won’t give us more details on these parts, replacing them with new Sea Islands parts is virtually guaranteed.

As it turns out, things won’t be all that different on the desktop. As we said before, AMD’s earlier desktop slide is technically correct, it’s just incomplete. AMD’s existing 7000 series cards aren’t going anywhere for the near future, with the flaw in the slide being that it implies that AMD won’t be introducing new products in that time frame. Oland already exists on the desktop in the form of the 8500 OEM and 8600 OEM series, and again with AMD declining to comment on specific details for future products, you should know where this is going. AMD will be introducing new retail desktop 7000 series products in the first half of 2013.

Is it virtually guaranteed (but not confirmed) that at least one of those products be the retail version of Oland. With 384 stream processors, Oland offers performance a step below the existing Cape Verde 7700 series parts and should give AMD the ability to deliver 7000 series functionality at under $100. At the same time, with at least one other Sea Islands GPU in the works, it’s also a strong likelihood that whatever new GPU AMD is introducing on the mobile side in Q2 will see an eventual desktop release in AMD’s H1 2013 timeframe. And to be very clear here, none of this is guaranteed, as AMD has made it clear that a new 7000 series desktop product does not necessarily mean a new GPU. But based on what AMD is saying and what AMD has committed to, Sea Islands is destined to get a retail desktop release.

The fact that these Sea Islands products will be released as 7000 series products is going to throw long-time readers a bit of a curveball, but as we’ve previously discussed Sea Islands is little more than new configurations of GCN1, so they will fit in nicely among the existing 7000 series products. For AMD’s part they believe the Radeon HD 7000 series is a very strong brand at retail – almost unbelievably having sold more 7900 cards in January 2013 than in any month prior – so as opposed to the OEM world where OEMs are driving rebadging and new product numbers, AMD wants to keep the 7000 series on the retail desktop in order to capitalize on their success. Labeling Sea Islands retail desktop parts as members of the 7000 series will allow AMD to introduce new products while still keeping the 7000 branding they’ve become so proud of.

What you’ll note through all of this however is that whenever we talk about the desktop it’s in relation to mobile, and there is a reason for that. Sea Islands is primarily geared for OEM notebooks, a very important market for AMD to tap at a time when laptop sales now outpace desktop sales, and when laptops only continue to grow while desktops shrink. There has been a general trend towards launching laptop-first in the PC industry for the past couple of years, and AMD is now part of that trend. This is why Sea Islands GPUs like Oland are launching as 8000M products first, and only later as desktop OEM and retail desktop parts.

This mobile/desktop distinction is important, but perhaps most so for high-end gamers, as this is necessary to set expectations. So far we’ve continued to point at the AMD roadmap, where AMD’s products top out at Pitcairn-like products. AMD’s mobile lineup never used AMD’s biggest, fastest GPU (Tahiti) for everything from power to cost reasons; these GPUs are best suited for desktops and workstations. What this also means is that if AMD were to focus on refreshing their mobile lineup first and foremost, would they need to refresh their high-end desktop lineup? The answer to that is basically no. AMD has been very careful with their words here, but the gist of matters is that the 7900 series will remain the mainstay of AMD’s enthusiast product line until the end of 2013.

Now AMD has been careful here to always mention the 7900 series and not Tahiti, but so far they are one in the same. AMD’s lack of comments means that we cannot say anything is for sure, but nearly everything about AMD’s presentation was geared around driving home the point that AMD is happy with their current enthusiast products, and indeed that they believe they currently have the fastest products and that they need to do a better job of getting the word out. In other words, while it’s clear that Sea Islands will flesh out the lower end of AMD’s GPU lineup, AMD has been doing everything they can to prepare the press to accept the idea that Tahiti will remain as AMD’s fastest GPU until the end of the year. Sometimes what AMD doesn’t say says it all, and in this case what’s not being said (but being strongly implied) is that AMD will not be coming out with a GCN1 GPU more powerful than Tahiti.

Finally, AMD also used a bit of their time to talk about their plans for the end of the year. With the 7900 series seemingly set as-is for the rest of the year, AMD has formally announced that they will be introducing a new GPU microarchitecture by the end of 2013. GCN is heavily embedded into AMD’s product line, from their SoCs all the way up to their biggest GPUs, so from a business perspective AMD is incredibly reliant on it. But on a technical level it’s also still a fresh, modern architecture whose greatest task – being the GPU component of AMD’s HSA implementation – has yet to come.

Consequently future microarchitectures will be GCN based, as AMD will continue to refine GCN implementations and add features to the architecture, similar to what they did with VLIW5 over the span of 4 years. We don’t typically throw around the word microarchitecture when discussing GPUs, but with AMD’s plans that’s exactly what’s going on; we’re seeing a stratification of things into the all-encompassing architecture (Graphics Core Next) and the individual microarchitectures spawned from it like GCN1 and AMD’s yet-to-be-named microarchitecture.

In any case, AMD’s new GPU microarchitecture will in turn drive a new generation of products that will be introduced at the same time. AMD isn’t saying anything more about what’s to come from that family, but we would note that the timeline for the launch of this new family lines up with how long AMD expects the 7900 to remain their enthusiast mainstay.

Wrapping things up, while there was little new on AMD’s call besides their new microarchitecture, their call did go a long way towards clearing up their previous announcements and giving us a better idea of what to expect from AMD in the next few months. The long and short of it is that while AMD won’t be replacing the 7000 series on the retail desktop, they will be supplanting it with new products, and those products are almost certain to be based on their forthcoming Sea Islands GPUs. Based on what we’ve seen about Sea Islands so far on the mobile side, it should do a good job of fleshing out AMD’s product lineup to cover the gaps and areas where they don’t have direct competition against NVIDIA. At the same time however they clearly won’t be a significant departure from the products we’ve seen so far, and most importantly they won’t be a microarchitecture cadence.

As for enthusiasts, the implication that they’re not going to see anything faster than Tahiti until the next generation products at the end of this year is unfortunately unlikely to go over well. Enthusiasts have become used to annual GPU refreshes, and while they’re still somewhat here as we’re seeing with Sea Islands, that era appears to be coming to a close as microarchitectures improve, development costs go up, and the rate of introduction for new fabrication processes slows. And certainly this is quite a departure from the norm. But if nothing else, AMD is right about a couple of things: as it stands AMD is already competitive with NVIDIA’s contemporary high-end offerings, and they're finally competitive with NVIDIA when it comes to developer outreach. Ultimately with the success of the 7900 series AMD today is in a comfortable place, leaving them free to focus on what they already have and how to improve those sales even further.

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  • redjamester - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    me too. 2 6870's oc'd are startin to show their age. 1 GB 256 bit starting to age. maybe the new 780?? wait??
  • Scott586 - Thursday, February 21, 2013 - link

    Agreed, maybe if they took a little more time between releases they could develop better products for less money, Win, Win.
  • SlyNine - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Several factors really.

    We need the software to catch up.

    We need PC gaming to become alittle (not much) more mainstream so we can get dev support.

    Slower product cycles are more encouraging to developers and consumers.

    We don't need 2 high end GPU's every year when software doesn't effectively use it. Lets face it, the only way to bring a current high end GPU to its knee's is by forcing graphic effects that have a minimal visual effect. Surely they could do something more effective with that rendering time; and they would if it wasn't for games are console ports and its quick and easy to add said effects.

    If we can unify XBMC (hulu, youtube, netflix) and Steam (games) with an easy to use interface for the TV we are well on our way. Also with Linux support from both; well I'm pretty excited and nervous for the prospects.

    I just hope steam does something for multi users, no one is going buy 4 copies of a game for use on the TV. They need multiple users per steam account if they want it to succeed.
  • Alexvrb - Sunday, February 17, 2013 - link

    Steam's console-esque hardware isn't going to improve the situation for PC gaming. If anything it will steal away PC gamers who aren't very dedicated to the PC, and only used it to play PC-exclusive titles because there's no alternative. How can PC gaming become mainstream when you're driving users AWAY from a full PC and into a Steam Box, with fixed hardware specs that are well below a high end PC?

    If the Steam Box really takes off and they sell several million units, it will have the same effect on software development as any other mainstream console. Developers will target the big market, and the full-on PC version will seem hamstrung in a couple of years. The mainstream hardware is at the core of the issue you're talking about, and Steam Box is little different from the MS/Sony units in this regard.

    The reality is that the Steam Box is just a way for Gabe to make sure he gets a cut of the profit from living room gaming too. He's pissed at MS for getting a cut from the Windows store, but Valve is no better. They're a for-profit company too.
  • SlyNine - Monday, February 18, 2013 - link

    I don't think you have a clue about steambox, since no one does. Not sure why you think steambox would have the same effect as console gaming. You're kinda just making the facts up honestly. You say the steambox is fixed spec'ed, do you have any proof. The steambox is just a PC with steam. Its more about the software then the hardware.

    I mean we haven't even seen the finished product yet and you have already made up your mind, with some HUGE assumptions and very questionable premises. If steambox did well it could also lead to more demand for PC upgrades.

    Plus, like I said. Gaming for Linux, on the big screen TV combined with XBMC. I love the thought of that. If devs decide not to take up Linux I can still use windows 7, XBMC, and steam. That's what I love about PCs, CHOICE. That's what sucks about consoles, no choice!

    But this notion that it could actually hurt PC gaming, beyond what consoles already have... I just don't understand that.
  • tim851 - Friday, February 22, 2013 - link

    The scenario is this:

    Valve encourages other vendors to build Steamboxes, with varying configurations, that's true. But I think others, like Alienware, would be tempted to stay close to Valve's config to maximize compatibilty and ease of production, since they could just copy the Valve's software stack including drivers.

    So there's the danger of a single Steambox config prevailing. That would tempt devs to start actively targeting that config. Indies would be first to state: PC compatible, but tested on Steambox only.
    If successful, after a while other configs could become increasingly buggy and PC builders (OEM or do-it-yourself) would be wise to adhere to the Steambox config too, especially on the GPU side.

    Should Valves choose nVidia for their GPU, this could poison the gaming retail market for AMD, triggering them to just focus on the consoles they're in. And without a competitor, nVidia becomes lazy and just designs to Valve's desire.

    We could end up in a situation where the Steambox is just a console you can buy from different vendors. It would still be preferrable to PS4s and Xbox whatevers, but the open spirit of the PC - that is currently under siege on other fronts - would take another hit.
  • BWAnaheim - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Perhaps AMD is realizing that it can leverage increased margins if it does not need to retool every year and can introduce incremental updates rather than new architectures. However, the timeline outlined here makes me wonder if AMD is not delaying the launch to coincide with the next XBOX launch.

    Yes, I have read the rumors that the next XBOX features a 6670 or variant, but when the XBOX 360 launched, it featured a GPU that AMD had not yet released (something like a 2900 equivalent if memory serves me correctly?). Perhaps Microsoft is using the next microcode and has made some deal to have exclusive launch with it for 30 days. That would coincide with the next desktop GPU launches based on what I have seen.

    AMD is having cash flow issues, so this may be an opportunity seen to defer capital expenditures, too. Maybe they are also hoping people will not sit on the sideline for the next upgrade cycle like I have, giving incentive to purchase today.

    Knowing the past history on the AMD development cycles, they could just be way behind.
  • RussianSensation - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    Those rumours are old. All the latest information points to Xbox 720 using a 12 compute unit GPU with 768 SPs, 1.23Tflops, with performance similar to that of an HD7770. On the PS4 side the same sources are hinting at an 18 computer unit GPU with 1152 SPs, 1.84Tflops, with performance approximating that of an HD7850.
  • BWAnaheim - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    HD7770-like. I would not be surprised, though, if Microsoft wanted to go with a smaller geometry or additional stepping to save further on power and reduce heat loads. That would help to avoid the solder and heat issues that plagued the first generation of the 360.
  • jjj - Friday, February 15, 2013 - link

    To translate this into english AMD is saying they don't have the resources to stay on a 1 year cycle even if Nvidia has 2/3 of the market now (real numbers not assumptions).
    The big question is if the 8xxx series is on 28nm or 20nm. My guess is 20nm at GloFo since when they signed the latest WSA that expires at the end of the year they said some GPUs will be at GloFo . Could be GloFo 28nm, i guess, but that would be less fun for us.
    Now lets see if Nvidia goes after share gains and has a new gen soon or they take it easy too.

    You mention that laptops are growing and desktops are declining and that's not all that true anymore. Both are declining and laptops might decline at a faster pace. Don't have numbers for machines with discrete GPUs ,that particular segment could be different so do share if you do have any actual numbers.
    And since i know someone will have to argue that PC sales are not that bad , just this week Gartner released sales numbers for Q4 in western Europe and ... "In the fourth quarter of 2012, all PC segments in Western Europe declined. Mobile and desktop PC shipments declined 12.1 percent and 10.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, respectively. The decrease in the professional PC market was less severe due to replacement purchases and fell 4.9 percent, while the consumer PC market declined 17.6 percent year-on-year. "
    - that decline in consumer is huge and far beyond what the economic troubles would cause and it's serious trouble.

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