Almost 7 years ago to this day, AMD formally announced their “small die strategy.” Embarked upon in the aftermath of the company’s struggles with the Radeon HD 2900 XT, AMD opted against continuing to try beat NVIDIA at their own game. Rather than chase NVIDIA to absurd die sizes and the risks that come with it, the company would focus on smaller GPUs for the larger sub-$300 market. Meanwhile to compete in the high-end markets, AMD would instead turn to multi-GPU technology – CrossFire – to offer even better performance at a total cost competitive with NVIDIA’s flagship cards.

AMD’s early efforts were highly successful; though they couldn’t take the crown from NVIDIA, products like the Radeon HD 4870 and Radeon HD 5870 were massive spoilers, offering a great deal of NVIDIA’s flagship performance with smaller GPUs, manufactured at a lower cost, and drawing less power. Officially the small die strategy was put to rest earlier this decade, however even informally this strategy has continued to guide AMD GPU designs for quite some time. At 438mm2, Hawaii was AMD’s largest die as of 2013, still more than 100mm2 smaller than NVIDIA’s flagship GK110.

AMD's 2013 Flagship: Radeon R9 290X, Powered By Hawaii

Catching up to the present, this month marks an important occasion for AMD with the launch of their new flagship GPU, Fiji, and the flagship video card based on it, the Radeon R9 Fury X. For AMD the launch of Fiji is not just another high-end GPU launch (their 3rd on the 28nm process), but it marks a significant shift for the company. Fiji is first and foremost a performance play, but it’s also new memory technology, new power optimization technologies, and more. In short it may be the last of the 28nm GPUs, but boy if it isn’t among the most important.

With the recent launch of the Fiji GPU I bring up the small die strategy not just because Fiji is anything but small – AMD has gone right to the reticle limit – but because it highlights how the GPU market has changed in the last seven years and how AMD has needed to respond. Since 2008 NVIDIA has continued to push big dies, but they’ve gotten smarter about it as well, producing increasingly efficient GPUs that have made it harder for a scrappy AMD to undercut NVIDIA. At the same time alternate frame rendering, the cornerstone of CrossFire and SLI, has become increasingly problematic as rendering techniques get less and less AFR-friendly, making dual GPU cards less viable than they once were. And finally, on the business side of matters, AMD’s market share of discrete GPUs is lower than it has been in over a decade, with AMD’s GPU plus APU sales now being estimated as being below just NVIDIA’s GPU sales.

AMD's Fiji GPU

Which is not to say I’m looking to paint a poor picture of the company – AMD Is nothing if not the perennial underdog who constantly manages to surprise us with what they can do with less – but this context is important in understanding why AMD is where they stand today, and why Fiji is in many ways such a monumental GPU for the company. The small die strategy is truly dead, and now AMD is gunning for NVIDIA’s flagship with the biggest, gamiest GPU they could possibly make. The goal? To recapture the performance crown that has been in NVIDIA’s hands for far too long, and to offer a flagship card of their own that doesn’t play second-fiddle to NVIDIA’s.

To get there AMD needs to face down several challenges. There is no getting around the fact that NVIDIA’s Maxwell 2 GPUs are very well done, very performant, and very efficient, and that between GM204 and GM200 AMD has their work cut out for them. Performance, power consumption, form factors; these all matter, and these are all issues that AMD is facing head-on with Fiji and the R9 Fury X.

At the same time however the playing field has never been more equal. We’re now in the 4th year of TSMC’s 28nm process and have a good chunk of another year left to go. AMD and NVIDIA have had an unprecedented amount of time to tweak their wares around what is now a very mature process, and that means that any kind of advantages for being a first-mover or being more aggressive are gone. As the end of the 28nm process’s reign at the top, NVIDIA and AMD now have to rely on their engineers and their architectures to see who can build the best GPU against the very limits of the 28nm process.

Overall, with GPU manufacturing technology having stagnated on the 28nm node, it’s very hard to talk about the GPU situation without talking about the manufacturing situation. For as much as the market situation has forced an evolution in AMD’s business practices, there is no escaping the fact that the current situation on the manufacturing process side has had an incredible, unprecedented effect on the evolution of discrete GPUs from a technology and architectural standpoint. So for AMD Fiji not only represents a shift towards large GPUs that can compete with NVIDIA’s best, but it represents the extensive efforts AMD has gone through to continue improving performance in the face of manufacturing limitations.

And with that we dive in to today’s review of the Radeon R9 Fury X. Launching this month is AMD’s new flagship card, backed by the full force of the Fiji GPU.

AMD GPU Specification Comparison
  AMD Radeon R9 Fury X AMD Radeon R9 Fury AMD Radeon R9 290X AMD Radeon R9 290
Stream Processors 4096 (Fewer) 2816 2560
Texture Units 256 (How much) 176 160
ROPs 64 (Depends) 64 64
Boost Clock 1050MHz (On Yields) 1000MHz 947MHz
Memory Clock 1Gbps HBM (Memory Too) 5Gbps GDDR5 5Gbps GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 4096-bit 4096-bit 512-bit 512-bit
FP64 1/16 1/16 1/8 1/8
TrueAudio Y Y Y Y
Transistor Count 8.9B 8.9B 6.2B 6.2B
Typical Board Power 275W (High) 250W 250W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN 1.2 GCN 1.2 GCN 1.1 GCN 1.1
GPU Fiji Fiji Hawaii Hawaii
Launch Date 06/24/15 07/14/15 10/24/13 11/05/13
Launch Price $649 $549 $549 $399

With 4096 SPs and coupled with the first implementation of High Bandwidth Memory, the R9 Fury X aims for the top. Over the coming pages we’ll get in to a deeper discussion on the architectural and other features found in the card, but the important point to take away right now it that it packs a lot of shaders, even more memory bandwidth, and is meant to offer AMD’s best performance yet. R9 Fury X will eventually be joined by 3 other Fiji-based parts in the coming months, but this month it’s all about AMD’s flagship card.

The R9 Fury X is launching at $649, which happens to be the same price as the card’s primary competition, the GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Launched at the end of May, the GTX 980 Ti is essentially a preemptive attack on the R9 Fury X from NVIDIA, offering performance close enough to NVIDIA’s GTX Titan X flagship that the difference is arguably immaterial. For AMD this means that while beating GTX Titan X would be nice, they really only need a win against the GTX 980 Ti, and as we’ll see the Fury X will make a good run at it, making this the closest AMD has come to an NVIDIA flagship card in quite some time.

Finally, from a market perspective, AMD will be going after a few different categories with the R9 Fury X. As competition for the GTX 980 Ti, AMD is focusing on 4K resolution gaming, based on a combination of the fact that 4K monitors are becoming increasingly affordable, 4K Freesync monitors are finally available, and relative to NVIDIA’s wares, AMD fares the best at 4K. Expect to see AMD also significantly play up the VR possibilities of the R9 Fury X, though the major VR headset, the Oculus Rift, won’t ship until Q1 of 2016. Finally, it has now been over three years since the launch of the original Radeon HD 7970, so for buyers looking for an update AMD’s first 28nm card, Fury X is in a good position to offer the kind of generational performance improvements that typically justify an upgrade.

Fiji’s Architecture: The Grandest of GCN 1.2
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  • D. Lister - Thursday, July 2, 2015 - link

    "AMD had tessellation years before nVidia, but it went unused until DX11, by which time nVidia knew AMD's capabilities and intentionally designed a way to stay ahead in tessellation. AMD's own technology being used against it only because it released it so early. HBM, I fear, will be another example of this. AMD helped to develop HBM and interposer technologies and used them first, but I bet nVidia will benefit most from them."

    AMD is often first at announcing features. Nvidia is often first at implementing them properly. It is clever marketing vs clever engineering. At the end of the day, one gets more customers than the other.
  • sabrewings - Thursday, July 2, 2015 - link

    While you're right that Nvidia paid for the chips used in 980 Tis, they're still most likely not fit for Titan X use and are cut to remove the underperforming sections. Without really knowing what their GM200 yields are like, I'd be willing to be the $1000 price of the Titan X was already paying for the 980 Ti chips. So, Nvidia gets to play with binned chips to sell at $650 while AMD has to rely on fully up chips added to an expensive interposer with more expensive memory and a more expensive cooling solution to meet the same price point for performance. Nvidia definitely forced AMD into a corner here, so as I said I would say they won.

    Though, I don't necessarily say that AMD lost, they just make it look much harder to do what Nvidia was already doing and making bookoo cash at that. This only makes AMD's problems worse as they won't get the volume to gain marketshare and they're not hitting the margins needed to heavily reinvest in R&D for the next round.
  • Kutark - Friday, July 3, 2015 - link

    So basically what you're saying is Nvidia is a better run company with smarter people working there.
  • squngy - Friday, July 3, 2015 - link

    "and they cost more per chip to produce than AMD's Fiji GPU."

    Unless AMD has a genie making it for them that's impossible.
    Not only is fiji larger, it also uses a totally new technology (HBM).
  • JumpingJack - Saturday, July 4, 2015 - link

    "AMD had tessellation years before nVidia, but it went unused until DX11, by which time nVidia knew AMD's capabilities and intentionally designed a way to stay ahead in tessellation. AMD's own technology being used against it only because it released it so early. HBM, I fear, will be another example of this. AMD helped to develop HBM and interposer technologies and used them first, but I bet nVidia will benefit most from them."

    AMD fanboys make it sound like AMD can actually walk on water. AMD did work with Hynix, but the magic of HBM comes in the density from die stacking, which AMD did nothing (they are no longer the actual chipmaker as you probably know). As for interposers, this is not new technology, interposers are well established techniques for condensing an array of devices into one package.

    AMD deserves credit for bringing the technology to market, no doubt, but their actually IP contribution is quite small.
  • ianmills - Thursday, July 2, 2015 - link

    Good that you are feeling better Ryan and thanks for the review :)
    That being said Anandtech needs keep us better informed when things come up.... The way this site handled it though is gonna lose this site readers...
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, July 2, 2015 - link

    Ryan tweeted about the Fiji schedule several times and we were also open about it in the comments whenever someone asked, even though it wasn't relevant to the article in question. It's not like we were secretive about it and I think a full article of an article delay would be a little overkill.
  • sabrewings - Thursday, July 2, 2015 - link

    Those tweets are even featured on the site in the side bar. Not sure how much clearer it could get without an article about a delayed article.
  • testbug00 - Sunday, July 5, 2015 - link

    Pipeline story... Dunno title, but, for text, explain it there. Have a link to THG as owned by same company now if readers want to read a review immediately.

    Twitter is non-ideal.
  • funkforce - Monday, July 6, 2015 - link

    The problem isn't only with the delays, it is that since Ryan took over as Editor in Chief I suspect his workload is too large.
    Because this also happened with the Nvidia GTX 960 review. He told 5-6 people (including me) for 5 weeks that it would come, and then it didn’t and he stopped responding to inquires about it.
    Now in what way is that a good way to build a good relationship and trust between you and your readers?
    I love Ryan's writing, this article was one of the best I've read in a long time. But not everyone is good at everything, maybe Ryan needs to focus on only GPU reviews and not running the site or whatever his other responsibilities are as Edit. in Chief.

    Because the Reviews are what most ppl. come here for and what built this site. You guys are amazing, but AT never used to miss releasing articles the same day NDA was lifted in the past that I can remember. And promising things and then not delivering, sticking your head in the sand and not even apologizing isn’t a way to build up trust and uphold and strengthen the large following this site has.

    I love this site, been reading it since the 1st year it came out, and that's why I care and I want you to continue and prosper.
    Since a lot of ppl. can’t reed the twitter feed then what you did here:
    Is the way to go if something comes up, but then you have to deliver on your promises.

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