Tencent Adopts Semi-Custom AMD GPUs, Designs Own Drivers

(Image credit: Maingear)

Hot on the heels of its announcement of three homegrown systems-on-chips (SoCs) for data center applications, Chinese cloud giant Tencent introduced the Xinghai Wisdom Wood Series GA01, a custom graphics card based on an AMD graphics processing unit. One of the interesting details of the announcement is that Tencent gets to design its own drivers for the board, suggesting rather close collaboration with AMD.

A modern graphics processor can be used for a variety of applications, including rendering for gaming and professional applications, media encoding/decoding, and high-performance computing. Tencent runs various workloads in its cloud data centers, so it needs a rather versatile GPU that can be used for a variety of things, so it turned to AMD for a semi-custom solution, reports CSDN.net.

Tencent's GA01 GPU is based on AMD's Radeon Pro V620 card with 32GB of GDDR6 memory (according to TechnoPixel), but it uses a liquid cooling system (LCS) and is equipped with real-time fault monitoring and early warning capabilities to make it more reliable. Perhaps more importantly, the GPU is 'highly customized at the driver level' to optimize its rendering, encoding/decoding, and image processing. Tencent claims that the board is 120% faster compared to mainstream graphics cards, though the company didn't elaborate.

AMD's Radeon Pro V620 is based on Navi 21 GPU that relies on the company's latest architecture, RDNA 2. The GPU supports SR-IOV virtualization and can be used concurrently by multiple remote users (for cloud gaming, DaaS, WaaS, and ML). In addition, it supports advanced security capabilities to protect user data from other users.

Normally, AMD ships its Radeon Pro with its own drivers, but with Tencent, it let the Chinese company design its own software, which is a rather unusual move since both AMD and Nvidia tend to protect peculiarities of their latest GPU architectures from competitors. Meanwhile, Tencent plans to use the card in a specially designed server with enhanced availability and reliability, so perhaps it needed to develop special drivers for the card to maximize compatibility with the machine and its software stack.  

It's noteworthy that Tencent is one of the few companies that adopted Intel's Xe-LP-based SG1 Server GPU card for its remote rendering last year. These systems are used primarily to remotely render some of Tencent's games for Android to ensure smooth framerates on entry-level smartphones. Meanwhile, it looks like Tencent preferred to use an AMD GPU for other cloud data center workloads perhaps for performance and availability reasons: AMD's GPU is already here, whereas Intel's Xe HPG GPUs are months away. 

AMD sells quite a lot of custom hardware. The company supplies custom system-on-chips (SoC) for Microsoft and Sony consoles. Furthermore, AMD has a number of semi-custom GPUs available only to Apple. Therefore, building a semi-custom offering for Tencent was not a big deal for the company, but beating Intel in Tencent's cloud data centers is a big deal for AMD. 

AMD has been quite successful with its EPYC CPUs for datacenters, but with GPUs aimed at the same market the company has not been particularly fruitful, so Nvidia currently rules this market. With Tencent, AMD scores a relatively big design win, albeit with a semi-custom offering. 

Anton Shilov
Freelance News Writer

Anton Shilov is a Freelance News Writer at Tom’s Hardware US. Over the past couple of decades, he has covered everything from CPUs and GPUs to supercomputers and from modern process technologies and latest fab tools to high-tech industry trends.

  • Isn't creating custom hardware the best option for AMD at the moment? Recent success with Zen architecture is not enough to threathen Intel or nVidia with CDNA/RDNA. AMD needs to keep momentum to rectify years of Buldozer.

    General purpose hardware is fine for a regural customer, but as a company like Tencent I'd be happy to buy something tailored for my particular needs. As far as I can see, it works for AMD.
  • Endymio
    AMD is going to regret this "close collaboration" with Tencent in the near future. Based on thousands of incidents from the recent past, Tencent will shortly begin producing its own chips, using patents and trade secrets stolen from AMD.
  • renz496
    Endymio said:
    AMD is going to regret this "close collaboration" with Tencent in the near future. Based on thousands of incidents from the recent past, Tencent will shortly begin producing its own chips, using patents and trade secrets stolen from AMD.

    isn't that something similar already happen on CPU?