Graphics Cards Guide
AMD Announces New R9 and R7 Radeon Graphics Cards
The All New Radeon "Hawaii" Graphics Cards
Earlier today, AMD teased us with a reference Radeon R9 290X graphics card aboard the USS Missouri Battleship, but it wasn't long before the GPU14 Media Tech Day event commenced and we now have more basic details of the new GPU line-up coming to a store near your sometime in the month of October.
As outlined in the slide above, the R7 250, R7 260X, R9 270X, R9 280X and R9 290X make up the bulk of the new Radeon graphics card models. Although there are a few other variants along with the supposed competitive positioning information, we'll have to withhold those details till sometime next month. What we can say is that the R7 series are targeted at the masses, while the R9 series are for gamers and enthusiasts.
At about this time, we're pretty sure you've questions as to why AMD has changed their GPU naming scheme and to figure that out, we spoke to John Taylor from AMD. Apparently, the name change was to signify the new initiatives and directions taken by the graphics department to bring about a more immersive gaming experience all around. We'll let you in on that shortly, but first, here's how they stack up:-
|GPU SKU||Memory||Suggested Retail Price||3DMark Fire Strike Score|
|AMD Radeon R9 290X||4GB||TBD||TBD|
|AMD Radeon R9 280X||3GB||US$299||> 6,800|
|AMD Radeon R9 270X||2GB||US$199||> 5,500|
|AMD Radeon R7 260X||2GB||US$139||> 3,700|
|AMD Radeon R7 250||1GB||< US$89||> 2,000|
The top of the line Radeon R9 290X is also available in limited quantities in a Battlefield 4 Edition box packaging with the game bundled. It is only available via online pre-order from 3rd October (US time). As for specific timelines of launch for each GPU SKU, they will be staggered throughout the month of October. Unlike most other previous launches, AMD will be renewing most of their GPU stack in a very short time frame.
What's Uniquely Different About the New Radeon Graphics Card Series?
In a nutshell, the slide above summarizes the new improvements made to the upcoming Radeon R9 and R7 graphics cards and we'll be looking through each of them briefly.
Refreshed GCN Architecture
- Builds upon the GCN architecture that first debuted with the Radeon HD 7900 series and improves upon it.
- Updated GCN architecture supports DirectX 11.2 standard
- Improved PowerTune for energy efficiency and performance optimization
- The top of the line Radeon R9 290X delivers over 5 TFLOPs of compute performance, processes over 4 billion triangles per second, crams more than 6 billion transistors in its die and has over 300GB/s memory bandwidth with an improved memory controller structure.
To show off the improved GCN architecture, AMD has brought back their sexy Ruby mascot, so look out for new Ruby demos to showcase the new graphics cards:-
Designed for High Resolution Gaming (Ultra HD / 4K)
While AMD was first to support 4K resolution gaming, setting up such monitors wasn't a straightforward affair and might need Eyefinity setup to manually configure such monitors. With the new graphics card series bringing in more firepower, an improved Catalyst driver suite promises to support popular 4K resolution monitors out of the box without configuration. On that note, AMD has also proposed to the Video Electronics Standard Association (VESA) to update its standard to support for displays larger than 4K resolution, tiled display technologies and stereo 3D formats among others, which VESA accepted and updated their DisplayID standard to version 1.3.
In that sense, the new Radeon graphics cards are designed to be 4K-ready, but only the Radeon R9 290X has enough processing throughput to really deliver high performance at high quality settings at such resolution.
AMD TrueAudio Technology
AMD was the first to combine audio stream output via HDMI many years back, but this time around, they've taken a radical step forward to incorporate a fully programmable audio engine as part of the GPU die. The idea is to move away from simplistic audio reproduction with minimal effects and have real-time positional audio rendered, just like how games have tremendously improved visually over time when moving from fixed function programming to programmable shaders.
According to audio processing algorithm IP owners like GenAudio and McDSP, their spokespeople mentioned that it would take tremendous CPU processing throughput to accurately render positional audio in real-time with several audio effects. In fact, they sighted that it would take an 8-core CPU to handle such processing elegantly without bringing the system to its knees. Due to the immense processing power required, this is the reason why the industry has brushed it aside and focused on enhancing visual computing while relegating a measly 10% or so CPU processing cycles for standard audio processing tasks with simplified audio rendering that tries to mimic 3D audio via algorithms (such as Creative's EAX, Dolby, DTS and others), rather than real-time interactive audio effects reproduction.
What AMD's TrueAudio technology does is to provide the programmable processing throughput on the GPU's silicon die to offload the CPU from standard audio processing, while having game developers utilize audio middleware partners to enable AMD TrueAudio processing path to incorporate plug-ins for the required high quality audio processing algorithms. We experienced GenAudio's AstoundSurround (3D spatial audio technology) in action at the GPU14 Tech Day event and we were rather convinced of its accurate positional audio capabilities from demo clips presented. Further to that, we've also tried an actual game demo with the upcoming new Thief installment, now in its fourth version, with AMD TrueAudio technology. When playing the game with the TrueAudio enabled ,you don't readily get to appreciate what it has done for your gaming experience; but once you disable it, the difference in audio accuracy, clarity and realism is all too obvious. While it is a tech demo, you'll have to realize that without AMD TrueAudio technology, the CPU will be tasked to process standard audio as most mainstream processors don't have the muscle to process high quality audio algorithms.
Would we want AMD TrueAudio Technology? Most certainly. However it might take AMD more convincing to get game developers onboard this standard. Fortunately, it doesn't alienate anyone as it enhances audio experience for those equipped with suitable AMD graphics cards, while everyone else will hear standard audio. Also, what we heard from the game developers at the show is that incorporating AMD TrueAudio wasn't much effort at all.
In AMD's words, they hope TrueAudio will revolutionize gaming audio quality just as what programmable shaders have done for realistic graphics rendering quality. One last but important bit: AMD TrueAudio Technology is only supported on the Radeon R9 290X, R9 290 and R7 260X.
Here are some upcoming games that are designed with AMD TrueAudio Technology:-
- Sonic: All Stars Racing Transformed
- Murdered: Soul Suspect
- Star Citizen
We've got a detailed news piece on this development, but to summarize it here, AMD is releasing a new API (codenamed Mantle) to directly tap into the hardware capabilities of AMD's GCN-based GPUs and unleash the full performance potential of the GPU in an efficient manner. While it may seem to alienate Intel and NVIDIA, the core reason for this initiative came about to facilitate game developers to concentrate on improving what matters most to gamers instead of time spent on porting and optimizing games on different platforms. This is all the more feasible because AMD now produces the processing brains behind all of the next generation consoles.