The AMD Polaris GPU Architecture Preview

Author: SKYMTL
Date: January 3, 2016
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In the last quarter of 2015, AMD and their Radeon Technologies Group did something we’ve rarely seen in the secretive world of tech companies. They sat down members of the press, gave us an iron-clad NDA and started talking about their plans for the next year. While that’s what typically happens behind closed doors, AMD added in a refreshingly new twist: we wouldn’t have to wait until a product’s official launch to actually talk about what was being discussed. Instead, there were preset times throughout 2015 and 2016 were we could publish information well in advance and give our readers a glimpse at some exciting elements coming down the pipeline. One of the key take-aways from those meetings was details about AMD’s upcoming GPU architecture, code named Polaris.

The Polaris architecture represents a huge step forward for AMD but it will also walk hand in hand with a number of other initiatives fronted by the Radeon Technologies Group. For example, GPUOpen aims to put additional resources into the hands of developers which could allow for better optimization in PC games and enhanced visual effects across all platforms. There’s also a whole packet of upcoming display-driven technologies like HDR panels, FreeSync over HDMI and DisplayPort 1.3 that are coming down the pipeline. Finally, the RTG is hoping to offer a robust driver and software infrastructure through their (hopefully) regularly updated Radeon Software Suite.

These elements and others should combine to lay a solid foundation and insure the stars align in preparation for the Polaris architecture. As you can imagine, there are some major investments tied up in Polaris’ success but the architecture itself requires a bit more explanation as well.

The Polaris architecture may represent a shining beacon for gamers looking for a flagship product from AMD which can essentially offer an alternative to NVIDIA’s upcoming Pascal microarchitecture. However, at least initially, Polaris will be targeting volume rather than halo markets in an effort to compete in segments where the Radeon Technologies Group feels the largest inroads can be made. This means mid level desktops / all-in-ones, notebooks and even integration into upcoming consoles are all being focused upon over enthusiast-grade wares. Availability for those first Polaris cores is slated for mid 2016 while the more complicated designs meant for higher end GPUs will likely be rolled out in Q3 and Q4 of this year.

There’s a good reason for this staggered rollout: not only does it allow for a potentially quick Radeon resurgence within the key low power applications AMD has been historically weak in but there’s also some good old fashioned production assurances involved here as well. With AMD utilizing a new 14nm FinFET manufacturing process (more on this later), they need to perfect the Polaris core design, optimize yields and start understanding the limitations of their new architecture without taking huge risks. A primary rollout with a smaller, more efficient and less specialized core allows them to do exactly that. It could also optimize the timeline for Polaris’ closer integration into upcoming APU designs.

At this time the amount of information about the Polaris architecture is relatively minimal but AMD is set to release additional talking points between now and its official launch in mid 2016. However, over the next few pages we’ll go over what we can officially discuss about Polaris and what the 16nm manufacturing process means for its future.

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