NVIDIA Has AMD In a Stranglehold... For Now
NVIDIA unveiled its next-gen GeForce GTX 1080 with a huge bang, with it being the first consumer-focused Pascal-based video card from the company baked on the 16nm FinFET process.
It rocks some serious specs, with 2560 CUDA cores on its 16nm-based GPU, with 8GB of GDDR5X - which acts like turbocharged GDDR5. The 8GB of GDDR5X on the GTX 1080 is clocked at a huge 10GHz, up from the 7GHz on the current GDDR5-based cards like the GTX 980 or Titan X.
But the question is: can AMD compete with this? I don't think so. AMD has been placing its chess pieces regarding Polaris, into the mainstream side of the star system. There are people expecting AMD to unveil a new Fury X successor based on the 14nm node with HBM2, but you're going to be disappointed.
AMD's next-gen Radeon should use GDDR5, not GDDR5X
AMD's first Polaris-based video cards should arrive as the Radeon 400 series, succeeding the Hawaii/Grenada-based Radeon 200 and 300 series cards. We should expect AMD to use GDDR5, as I'd be surprised that AMD is going to use GDDR5X if they want to hit that mainstream market.
The mainstream market is somewhere in the $299 range, and this is simply not possible with AMD using GDDR5X. So what should we expect? I think we'll see AMD release a new Radeon R9 490X at $299, powered by GDDR5 based on the 14nm FinFET-powered Polaris architecture.
The architectural benefits of Polaris should be exciting, but the Radeon R9 390X (and heck, the R9 290X) are still kick ass cards. They have 8GB of GDDR5, a large 512-bit memory bus, and handle 4K gaming without breaking too much of a sweat. So, what can AMD do with a Polaris-based successor to the 390X? Well, that depends on what 'mainstream' means, and how the cards are positioned in the market.
Right now, the Fiji-based Radeon R9 Fury X runs the Fiji XT GPU, with 4GB of HBM1 and is AMD's current enthusiast video card. The company may have just released its dual-GPU video card in the form of the Radeon Pro Duo, but it's not for gamers or enthusiasts. The $1499 price pushes it way outside of the affordability ballpark for most people, too.
So, this brings me to my question - what can AMD do? Well, if they turn away from the mission of 'we have to beat NVIDIA', and if gamers and consumers didn't want them to release yet another video card that attempts to beat the new GeForce GTX 1070/1080, things could get interesting.
A cooler, more efficient, cheaper, Polaris-based R9 490X priced at $299 would be something that couldn't be ignored. At $299, it beats the $379 price of the GTX 1070, but it has to beat the performance of the GTX 1070.
At $299 for the R9 490X, we could expect 1440p 60FPS gaming with a card that doesn't exceed 70C or so, and it could be whisper quiet thanks to its 14nm FinFET-based GPU. If the R9 490X can do this, it will only be a little better than the R9 390X, so the price needs to be the alluring part of the situation.
But what about the card under that, the R9 490 or R9 380X/380? Well, that's the only way AMD can compete - by dropping their price now. The GTX 1080 is just an insane card, all without the use of HBM1 or even HBM2.
It Ain't Over 'Til The Fat Lady Sings
It's going to be an interesting few weeks with the GeForce GTX 1080 launching on May 27, right around the time that AMD will be showing off its next-generation Radeon video cards.
But you know what? I want AMD to surprise me. They need to surprise me, and you, and millions of other people. AMD could come out with something that has been kept totally under wraps until now, with all of these whispers and rumors about a $299 mainstream video card being nothing but smoke and mirrors to confuse everyone.
If this is the case, then it's a smart move, and it could explain NVIDIA's preemptive push with the GeForce GTX 1080 - because if not, AMD could find itself floating through space, where no one can hear them scream.
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