Tahiti, Pitcairn, And Bonaire Show Up For An Encore
Back in 2000, a gentleman by the name of Brian Hentschel called my dorm room at UCLA to ask my opinion of brand names. Brian was a marketing manager at ATI, and the company was looking for something catchy to succeed its Rage family. I had owned every single Rage-based desktop graphics product up until that point, and was pumped to provide feedback on the company's next-gen nomenclature.
Thirteen years later, I cannot remember the other options ATI was throwing around, but I distinctly recall liking Radeon least of all. Clearly I have no future in marketing, because I’ve been reviewing Radeon-branded cards ever since.
With its latest generation, AMD maintains the Radeon legacy, but changes everything that comes after. According to the company’s PR team, the new naming scheme makes positioning easier—and I’d have to agree. Our own writers were mistyping combinations of Radeon HD 7990, 7970, 7790, and so on. Now, we have the high-end Radeon R9 and mainstream R7 families, which are sub-divided into three-digit models suggesting performance levels.
Say Goodbye To The Old Names And Hello To The Old GPUs
At its press day in Hawaii, two weeks ago, AMD publically announced the Radeon R7 250, R7 260X, R9 270X, R9 280X, R9 290, and R9 290X. There’s also an R7 240 the company didn’t mention. How on earth will you ever memorize all of the corresponding specifications of each card in a timely manner? It’s easy: although we’re looking at new model names, all of the products AMD is talking about today employ GPUs already found in the Radeon HD 7000-series line-up.
Take that R9 270X, for example. With 1280 shaders spread across 20 compute units, it employs the same Pitcairn GPU introduced on the Radeon HD 7870 GHz Edition in March of last year. Or how about the R9 280X? Its 2048 shaders, 1 GHz engine frequency, and 384-bit memory bus should remind you of the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition, sporting the Tahiti GPU.
Of course, taking existing technology, tweaking it a bit, and giving it a shiny new-sounding name is an old practice. Much of the Radeon HD 8000 family is a replicate of the 7000s, shipped off to OEMs in the hope that folks buying tier-one machines don’t know any better. And don’t think I’m picking on AMD here. Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 700M series has Fermi-based models in it with core configurations dating back almost three years. The GeForce GTX 770 and 760 employ the same GK104 GPU found at the top of the 600-series. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in the graphics market.
The good news for today is that familiar GPUs make our job quite a bit easier. Doubly-so because the two products based on never-before-seen silicon, R9 290 and 290X, still aren’t ready for their public debut. This leaves us with the remainder of AMD’s R9 and R7 line-ups, well-known (and tested) technology, and price drops across the board. Positioning becomes the main focus of today's discussion, then.
Just don't be quick to marginalize what AMD is doing. Most Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition cards currently sell for somewhere around $375. R9 280X is going to debut at $300. The GeForce GTX 770 that Nvidia launched to replace its GTX 680 still sells for $400. Remember when the original 7970 sold for $550? Boy, that escalated quickly.
Let’s take a closer look at the R9 280X—for now, the highest-end board in AMD’s re-branded portfolio.