|AMD Radeon vs NVIDIA GeForce: Graphics Last Stand|
|Articles - Opinion & Editorials|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 15 December 2010|
AMD Radeon vs NVIDIA GeForce: Last Stand for Graphics
NVIDIA's Fermi GF110-powered GeForce GTX 580 sets a high standard, so can AMD's Cayman GPU with VLIW4 architecture save the Radeon HD 6970?
Over the past several years of testing desktop graphics hardware, I've enjoyed a unique perspective of the internal happenings that remain hidden from the public. Much like politics, there is the truth, and then there's what you've been convinced into believing. I've watched their tactics, and witnessed their desperate attempts to sway consumer opinion. As competition for sales within the desktop graphics segment provokes fierce competition, it also raises the stakes for the companies involved. In this editorial article, I'll share my opinion of what appears to me as the last stand for desktop graphics between the AMD Radeon and NVIDIA GeForce video cards.
On 15 December 2010 AMD will launch their latest flagship graphics processor, codenamed Cayman. This new GPU features dual graphics engines with an asynchronous dispatch and off-chip geometry buffering to 8th generation tessellation units. Equipped with a 2GB GDDR5 256-bit video buffer, the Cayman GPU can offer up to 24 SIMD engines and 96 Texture Units. Additionally, the AMD Radeon HD 6900-series will introduce several new MSAA modes including Enhanced Quality Anti-Aliasing (EQAA). But will this be enough for the upcoming AMD Radeon HD 6970 to compete with the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580? It seems unlikely.
Based on Catalyst driver 8.790.6.2000 (126.96.36.199 RC2) given to press, the Radeon HD 6970 delivers approximately the same performance as NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 570. Recently launched at the $350 price point, the GeForce GTX 570 and Radeon HD 6970 go back and forth between tests but at no point does the Radeon HD 6970 ever approach GeForce GTX 580 performance levels. According to AMD this won't occur until Q1 2011, when they unveil the Radeon HD 6990 X2 video card. Featuring dual Cayman GPUs, the codename 'Antilles' produce line will replace their aging Radeon HD 5970 video card. Unfortunately, missing the holiday shopping season could prove to be a deadly mistake for the AMD graphics team.
NVIDIA was fortunate to launch their GeForce GTX 580 at the beginning of November (2010), allowing for plenty of time to reach store shelves and holiday wish lists. Their GeForce GTX 570 came a month later, and barely makes its way onto market just in time for holiday gift shopping. Launching only one week before Christmas and with inventory in scarce supply, the AMD Radeon HD 6970 and Radeon HD 6950 video cards might not see any gaming action over the long holiday break as a result. This brings me to the point of this editorial: could this be the last stand for significant desktop graphics matchups?
AMD enjoyed a decisive head-start on the DirectX 11 desktop graphics market back in September 2009, but it didn't take long for NVIDIA to catch up. Holiday sales of the Radeon HD 5000-series helped propel Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NYSE:AMD) share prices by nearly 100% just three months later, compared to roughly 20% for NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA). One year later both companies have maintained slow but healthy earnings growth, yet the effects of any short-term competitive disadvantage could prove harrowing. Adding stress to this likely scenario, sales of discrete desktop graphics (video cards) are expected to decline as this sector is slowly replaced with compact and mobile computing devices.
It's a good thing then that top-end graphics sales only make up a small portion of overall revenue, while entry-level or mainstream graphics outsell top-end components all year long. Although AMD's Cayman GPU isn't going to beat the Fermi GF110 in terms of frame rate performance, there's plenty of opportunity for them to compete with NVIDIA in terms of product price and value. The Radeon HD 6850 and 6870 are still solid products that gamers can trust for good performance, but NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 460 has a stranglehold on the mainstream gaming market. Pending the actual retail sales price of AMD's Radeon HD 6970, the newly-introduced GeForce GTX 570 could be left to fill a large void in the $350 price segment. Price matters more than performance, more so now than ever before.
This takes us to the conclusion: what becomes of AMD graphics after two fruitless attempts at winning over the top-end market? The AMD Radeon HD 6870 failed to reach top-level performance that many expected, and was relegated to fighting off an army of factory-overclocked GeForce GTX 460's that sell at a better price point. Now the Radeon HD 6970 proves that AMD doesn't have a single-GPU answer to NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 580. The DX11 discrete graphics market is already saturated with AMD Radeon HD 5000 series, diced into portions so thin that a mere $10 separates some products, leaving little room for additional growth. With the convincing likelihood that AMD's Radeon HD 6900-series will miss the fast-approaching holiday season and the sales opportunities it brings, could AMD be forced into once again competing everywhere but the top?
UPDATE: Benchmark Reviews has published our test results for the AMD Radeon HD 6970 Video Card.
Can AMD afford to miss this upcoming holiday season? Please leave your comments below.