Let's talk about HBM
I remember being so beyond pumped about the possibilities of the exciting new, at the time, HBM1 technology. Offering up to 512GB/sec of memory bandwidth over the mid-300GB/sec that we were used to from the likes of NVIDIA and AMD's graphics cards at the time just felt like it was this next big leap that we needed - especially after being stuck on the 28nm process node for so long.
AMD was the first to have HBM1 technology on a consumer graphics card, with the release of the Radeon R9 Fury X reaching new levels of excitement - but, really - it fell on its face. Compared to NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 980 Ti which was released weeks earlier than the Fury X, AMD's graphics card lost against NVIDIA's best consumer graphics card at the time, even with the next-gen HBM1 technology.
HBM1 had some serious limitations with AMD only being able to equip their flagship HBM1-based graphics card with 4GB of HBM1. For a graphics card aimed at enthusiasts and 4K gamers, 4GB of framebuffer was simply not enough. There were tactics used that HBM1 and the 4096-bit memory bus (compared to 512-bit on the Radeon R9 390X) were able to fetch what it needed faster and that there was delta color compression, it would beat everything else on the market - at least, that's what the world expected.
Now remember, this isn't AMD's fault - HBM1 is the problem here. AMD experimented with the use of HBM1 on their Fiji-based graphics cards, so once the release of the Radeon R9 Fury X was out of the way, all eyes were on NVIDIA and their adoption of HBM technology.
It's Not All About Speed
Out of most people I know (inside and outside of the industry), I hold these companies up to nearly impossible standards. This is because I want the absolute bleeding edge technology I can, and now that I'm deep in the industry, I have a better understanding of how things work. My perspective hasn't changed, but I'm able to see it from different angles, which is also courtesy of my ten years working in a retail store building, customizing, and selling PC parts and gaming PCs.
I want the absolute best. Late last year, I was talking with some NVIDIA employees when they flew me out to LA for the release of the GeForce GTX 980 for notebooks, and they asked what I thought the future would bring - for both sides, AMD and NVIDIA. This was in September 2015, and I expected at that point that NVIDIA would unveil an HBM2-based Titan X successor at NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference in late-March 2016.
I also added that AMD needed to shift their focus completely, and move away from trying to compete against NVIDIA in the high-end market because they don't have the budget, the money for constant R&D (which adds up, so quickly), and that they lost their focus. Months later, AMD announced it had pushed its graphics division into Radeon Technologies Group.
AMD announced its next-gen Polaris architecture, aiming at the lower- and mid-range markets - meaning that I was right about the future of both companies. I expected NVIDIA not to use HBM2 on their consumer GeForce graphics cards for more than one reason:
- Cost - It's incredibly expensive - I don't have pricing on the difference between 8GB of GDDR5/X and HBM2, but it would have to be hundreds of dollars per graphics card. If you thought the $1200 pricing on the new Pascal-based Titan X was expensive, imagine it with 12GB of HBM2... we'd be looking at $3000 or something crazy.
- Yields - HBM2 is an incredibly difficult thing to make, especially compared to GDDR5 which has been around for years now, and both sides are very efficient with it. If NVIDIA released a new monster and it was powered by HBM2, and truly did deliver a totally new level of performance, the price would be out of this world.
- Performance - We saw that HBM1 didn't offer any performance benefits, and while you can argue with me on that all day, it's the simple truth. GDDR5-powered graphics cards are just as fast, and in some cases, like the GTX 980 Ti, are faster. HBM2 can offer 1024GB/sec of memory bandwidth, which is over double the 480GB/sec on the new Titan X, and exactly double the memory bandwidth of the Fury X with its 512GB/sec courtesy of HBM1.
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