John Byrne, AMD VP of World-Wide GPU & Chipsets
Driver Heaven: Hi John, really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today, how are things settling down now after the AMD/ATI merger?
John: Hi Allan, no problem, it’s my pleasure. Things are looking very promising for the new AMD. We have an exceptionally busy Q4 ahead of us with some exciting new GPU, CPU and chipset product launches right around the corner. We continue to integrate our teams at all levels and leverage our collective expertise across all segments from PC to CE. We also have a number of compelling new platform offerings that will come to market in the next 6-9 months to address the needs of enthusiasts, multimedia and mobile users. It is an exciting time to be at the company and there is a real sense of excitement and anticipation for the unique proposition we can offer our customers.
Driver Heaven: In terms of the design and support of graphics cards how has the merger between AMD and ATI affected staffing levels? (I.e. How many people worked on Hardware design and driver development before the merger and how many work in each now?)
John: Our GPU development teams have grown and will continue to grow to execute innovative products and meet our customer’s needs. We were a business unit before the merger and have maintained that structure so the merger largely hasn’t affected things like our development team size.
Driver Heaven: Is there much evidence that the merger has allowed knowledge from both companies to help improve products. For example, has anyone from the AMD CPU division been assisting in the creation of as yet unreleased GPU's?
John: We have joint development efforts working on our Fusion products and beyond. We have collaborations between our microprocessor and graphics groups in advanced technology areas and design methodologies. The benefits of those collaborations will come to fruition on future products but I can’t disclose any details at this time.
Driver Heaven: What is your favourite AMD product and why?
John: I would love to talk to you about my favorite product but it is not launched yet! …….. In Q4 we will introduce a compelling new 55nm product line that will deliver an unbelievable performance-per-watt per dollar for our customers. I wish I could tell you more but you will have to wait just a little longer.
Driver Heaven: The cooling solutions used on high end ATI parts have been generally getting louder with each generation. When the 2900XT was launched it was widely thought to be too loud by many reviewers and consumers. What are AMD's plans for future cards; will reducing the noise level of the cooling receive higher priority in the design phase?
John: Acoustics performance is a key parameter in the design of the Radeon Graphics products. Since the 2900XT we have made improvements in the power management and power requirements of our GPUs. With the technology integrated in our latest GPUs, we have more control of the thermal management coupled with improved fan technology to provide marked improvement in the acoustic performance of our newer products. The RV630-based products exemplify the advances we have made in this respect.
Driver Heaven: A few months back we ran a poll on Driver Heaven which asked our readers how important they thought full video acceleration in high end parts was. The results were very much in favour of the top cards featuring the same video acceleration technology as the mainstream parts. Various rumours have been circulating recently that some upcoming high end parts will, amongst other improvements, include full UVD like the 2600 series. Did public opinion cause this change from the previous AMD stance that high end users did not need/ want this feature or was there some other reason for adding acceleration?
John: Once again I wish I could tell you more but I can’t provide any specifics on our unannounced products. What I will say is that we listen to the market’s feedback on all of our products. Our Q4 product launch offers a number of customer-centric enhancements.
Driver Heaven: High-Definition video and DirectX10 were the two big features which hit the market recently, what do you see as being the next big thing in the graphics industry?
John: There are a number of untapped opportunities in the graphics market. DX 10 will continue to evolve and be enhanced over the coming months and we have a responsibility to our customers to deliver products which support next-gen specifications. There is also a tremendous opportunity in the marketplace with Windows Vista-based multi-GPU and in delivering a better DX 10 gaming experience from the entry-level to enthusiast class.
Driver Heaven: With the latest generation of Radeon cards (HD2X000) people experienced only mediocre performance in DX9. In DX10 based engines the cards perform much better however, often outperforming the competition. Will the RV670 suffer from the same problem (being based on the R600), or did the 55nm manufacturing process allow you to address it?
John: We’ve put a lot of effort into making our next-generation products special – and all our preliminary testing suggests that we’ve done a great job. We’ve spent the last months tweaking the fine details of the chip design so that we’re very more efficient than ever before.
You’ll also get to see the effects of the driver team’s learning experience. Now that we have a respectable number of DX10 titles available to play with the driver team have been able to figure out how developers are using the API and make sure that the hardware is most efficiently utilized. You’ve probably seen that quite a few games suddenly run significantly faster when we put out our last Catalyst 7.10 driver release, and you can expect us to follow that trend as we learn more about games, and how to maximize our hardware efficiency.
Driver Heaven: DX10 puts a big emphasis on pixel shader effects and so do the HD2X00 cards. Considering the RV670 cards will use a lot less power will you use that to increase the brute-force power of the card?
John: The HD2000 series of cards are all based on a truly unified shader architecture. Unlike some other chips ours are able to dedicate all of their processing power to the current task. That means we excel in those cases where the load is very lop-sided. And that’s true whether we’re running a pixel-intensive task, a vertex-intensive task or a geometry-intensive task. When you point out how good we are at pixel-heavy workloads you’re actually missing out that we’re devastatingly effective at some of the other cases.
The emphasis that DX10 puts on pixel processing power coupled with the low power demands of 55nm technology means that we’re going to be able to deliver high end enthusiast performance at a very competitive price point. We’re really excited about our next-generation products – and we believe gamers are going to love it too.
Driver Heaven: Up until now most DX10 games were actually DX9 games with extra DX10 effects. Do you think your architecture will give you an edge once fully DX10 games start coming out?
John: We’re very confident in our architecture. Most of the DX10 games we’ve seen so far have been rather straightforward ports of DX9 code – and that process is fraught with difficulties. If the code was originally written with DX9 in mind then it often doesn’t translate well to DX10 – and for that reason quite a few games seem to have lackluster performance. We’re gradually seeing a trend to “true” DX10 coding – and when that happens it brings huge benefits. The Acid test seems to be simple. If, at the same settings, the DX10 game runs slower – then in most cases you should stick with the DX9 version. But if, at those same settings, the DX10 version is fastest – then you’re probably looking at a great and new piece of coding. As we go forward, we certainly expect more and more games to have a native DX10 code-path – and that’s great news for us. It gives gamers a much better experience – and really lets DX10 hardware like the RV670 shine! That’s when you’ll see why our DX10 hardware was the right choice…!
Driver Heaven: Using only a 256-bit memory controller on the RV670 will undoubtedly put it at a great disadvantage compared to the R600 when playing at HD resolutions? Can you convince us that this was a good move for the end users?
John: Unfortunately, we can’t comment on the memory configurations of an unannounced product. We can tell you we’re very confident in the decisions we’ve made related to the performance of our next-generation products.
Driver Heaven: When CrossFire was originally announced there was much made of the fact that all games should be supported and no profiles were needed. This proved not to be the case and to this day new games and demo's are released which don't have CrossFire support and often by the time a driver is released the majority of enthusiasts will have finished their game. What are AMD doing to resolve this situation?
John: In terms of OS support for CrossFire, we have been very faithful to our users by delivering full support via WHQL’d monthly Catalyst drivers. We also took some very significant steps recently to greatly improve scaling with the latest DirectX10 games. Initially our DirectX 10 driver was based on stability and we are very happy with what we have delivered in this area. Now that we have a fairly large sample of DirectX 10 titles to work with, we’ve taken the opportunity to look at performance gains across the board. A great example is our implementation of “DirectX 10 compatible mode AFR” in Catalyst 7.10. We are seeing excellent scaling all around with Catalyst 7.10 based on these improvements and this is without the need for user level profiles.
Driver Heaven: Users will be able to use several RV670 cards at the same time, don't you think allowing up to 4 cards to work together is taking it a bit too far? Can we expect dual-core cards (Similar to the GeForce 7950GX2) due to the lower power consumption of the new core?
John: We can’t comment on details of our unannounced next-generation products. What I can tell you is that we believe Multi-GPU is about delivering the best possible DX 10 performance scaling on Windows Vista and we have a pretty compelling strategy for our customers in this area.
Driver Heaven: The RV670 is basically a refresh of the R600 architecture. You are probably working hard on the R700(!?) already... Can you reveal any plans you have for the new architecture?
John: We have some exciting new things planned in our forthcoming graphics architecture. Unfortunately, it’s too early for us to get into any details. Rest assured AMD is committed to long-term leadership in discrete graphics.
Driver Heaven: We have noticed in our graphics reviews that new games tend more and more to have issues on AMD hardware and there has been a need for "hot fix drivers" to be released on a couple of occasions in the last few months. What is stopping AMD from adding support for games in a more prompt fashion? Example: Quake Wars, Bioshock, Call Of Juarez, World In Conflict, Team Fortress 2
John: As you can see by our responsiveness, we are always looking for ways to improve our customer’s experience. Our initial Vista and DX10 drivers focused on stability, and we put a large percentage of our engineering resources to provide an unparalleled level of stability on Vista in general. There were initially very few games based on DX10 to help us validate our efforts, but we suddenly see a larger number of games with support for DX10. Typically we have the Microsoft WHQL tests (known as DCT – Driver Compatibility Test) as a validation vehicle, and we ensured with Catalyst that we pass those tests every month with flying colors. With these DX10 games now appearing (and Quake Wars which by the way is based on the OpenGL API) – we are able to optimize our performance and catch any quality bugs that we were unaware of before the games were released. It’s safe to say that by bringing out these hotfixes so rapidly, that our users will always have top notch performance in as much as possible a bug free environment. One important note for DH users – Microsoft themselves are releasing a lot of hotfixes for DX10 gaming as well and we would like to ask your users to ensure they are up to date with the Microsoft hotfixes (more info can be found here )
Driver Heaven: AMD has made some huge improvements in power efficiency of the X2 line of CPU's. Are similar improvements forthcoming on the GPU side?
John: We’ve been working on design techniques for low power for some time and the return on our investments has begun to appear in products such as our forthcoming Q4 product launch. Extensive clock gating, back-bias supply for lower standby power, voltage and frequency scaling are some of the techniques we’ve implemented. Our performance per watt in our next-generation product line has increased substantially and we’ll continue this trend in the future.
Driver Heaven: When the 690G chipset was released it featured relatively basic functionality, however in the last few months various features have been added such as more advanced bios configuration, support for DDR2 above 800MHz and video acceleration. Whilst it is nice to see these features available it does give the impression that the product was rushed out when not quite ready. What is your take on the release and evolution of the 690G?
John: In all fairness, we didn’t rush out 690 Chipset to the market. It was our most successful AMD chipset launch ever and has been adopted by OEM’s and SI’s around the world. AMD 690 included unique features and all of them provided a good experience at launch. Such features included:
- Integrated HDMI, DVI (with HDCP support)
- Fastest Motherboard GPU in the market
- Integrated Avivo video engine
- Robust VISTA driver
Another proof point was the readiness of the Partner Motherboard availability at launch. To our great delight, we launched with 30+ Partners Motherboard solutions from partners such as ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, Foxconn, ECS, Asrock,....
We fully understand that the ‘Channel’ is a very dynamic environment. It’s our goal to continuously bring more advanced feature sets to our customers. What we have done recently was a perfect example of that strategy. We have added new software improvements that brought more benefits to our customers such as:
- Improved HD Playback at 1080p through ATI Radeon integrated GPU
- Improved overclocking features
- Performance improvements
Driver Heaven: There has been a lot of talk about hybrid chips from AMD which would merge good CPU performance with solid GPU characteristics, letting users have a decent gaming rig without the need for a separate card. From a purely graphical standpoint, do you believe this move could benefit GPU development, or will this end up being a separate niche, much like integrated chips?
John: We see Fusion as critical part of our long-term vision for driving the ultimate visual experience across all segments. For example, in the mobile segment, Fusion gives us the opportunity to provide a significantly enhanced performance-per-watt for notebook users. We still see a tremendous need for discrete graphics for gamers and performance users.
Driver Heaven: Thanks again John, anything you would like to say to the Driver heaven enthusiast community?
John: Probably the most important thing to say is thank you for your continued support of AMD both as a brand and of our products. Whilst we are delighted with the products we are brining to market, the great news is that we have even more exciting technologies coming down the line. This will demonstrate our commitment to meeting both mainstream consumer and enthusiasts needs and which should also hopefully serve to reaffirm your belief in AMD as a technology innovator. Oh, and Allan, the site is looking fantastic, keep up the good work. I’m positive over the coming months we can provide you and your community more and more to get excited about.