When the R600 graphics processor and the Radeon HD 2900 series launched, I stated that AMD had hardware that was more forward-looking than Nvidia's G80 technology. I still feel that way after looking at the latest information we obtained from AMD about RV670. On the same day Nvidia is launching its GeForce 8800 GT Compare Prices on GeForce 8800GT Video Cards, Rick Bergman, Vice President of the Graphics Product Group at AMD disclosed some details about the Radeon HD 3800 series and beyond. However, he kept most of the juicy bits to himself pending product launch on November 15th. We do know that this launch will focus DX 10.1 hardware. Microsoft updated its software developers kit (SDK) in August and revealed some of the changes that would be taking place.
Due to the changes to 10.1, the RV670 graphics processor is not just a die shrink. Primarily this die shrink will be a 55 nm process. RV670 should take less silicon per wafer to produce than Nvidia's 8800GT meaning higher margins per part. AMD hinted but did not disclose that it should be able to beat Nvidia's thermal envelope especially at idle as it chose to implement some of its mobile technology into the desktop parts.
This is the sweet spot that was missing for almost a year. Only high, low and entry level cards have had a presence in the marketplace. PC Gamers were forced to spend above the traditional midrange price point for hardware that is clearly high end or purchase inferior performance DX10 hardware. The only card that came close was Nvidia's 320 MB model of the GeForce 8800GTS. Looking forward there will be at least three models (2 from AMD and 1 from Nvidia) that will service the "real" midrange. Traditionally midrange parts offered 75% of the performance of high end models at 50% or less of their price. The GeForce 8800GT and Radeon 3800 models should service this segment well with the new PCIe 2.0 interface.
Beyond DX 10.1 and a 55 nm process, users will be able to use more cards. Two, three and four-way CrossFire will be supported on Vista. Bergman also hinted at an asymmetric version of CrossFire. This means that cards of the same core but different memory and clock frequencies could be configured in CrossFire, stretching a consumer's dollar further. The Radeon HD 3800 series will also have an updated Universal Video Decoder (UVD) for the hardware acceleration of HD DVD and BluRay movies.
So, if the launch goes as planned, AMD will be able to claim three firsts: first to DX 10.1, first to 55nm and first to four way GPU performance on Vista.
There will be two versions of the Radeon HD 3800, with pricing (yet unconfirmed and subject to change) between $150-250 depending on model, clock frequency and memory configurations. These will be competitive with cards based on the technology Nvidia announced today. We wanted mid-range cards and now it appears we have them. The question that remains is "what does the change to the graphics component of DirectX in D3D 10.1 mean to consumers?" That is the real key to both launches.