AMD 2013 header

Yesterday, AMD’s Robert Hallock hosted an AMD on the /r/AMD subreddit where he answered questions about some of AMD’s forthcoming technologies and products, with a little bit of speculation here and there about what they had planned for the future. What Hallock uncovered over the course of a day charts an interesting course for some developments happening inside the company, and it’s always fun to see someone open up about the goings-on inside a chip designer of the scale of AMD or Intel.

I’ve copied just the pertinent questions and answers that were interesting to me. Among the topics discussed was the Polaris architecture, currently available products, display options, and software issues. I posed a few questions myself, including one that revealed how AMD was working with vendors to make sure that Thunderbolt-attached external graphics cards behaved properly.

Q: Do you expect interposers to experience a Moore’s law-like improvement trend?

AMD: Interposers are a great way to advance Moore’s law. High-performance silicon interposers permit for the integration of different process nodes, different process optimizations, different materials (optics vs. metals), or even very different IC types (logic vs. storage) all on a common fabric that transports data at the speed of a single integrated chip. As we (“the industry”) continue to collapse more and more performance and functionality into a common chip, like we did with Fiji an the GPU+RAM, the interposer is a great option to improve socket density.

There’s been speculation for a while that AMD’s work with Fiji in bringing an interposer into the mix to put the high-bandwidth memory closer to the GPU wasn’t only intended for the graphics department. The interposer on Fiji is larger than the GPU and all the memory chips that sit on it, and it’s always been possible to incorporate different chips onto it to create a SoC-like setup that fits nearly anywhere. The fun thing about interposers is that it is possible that AMD’s Zen processor uses one. Take a look at the slide using this link.

My guess is that not only will AMD use interposers on Zen for their server products, it’ll also use the interposer to fit more and more quad-core dies onto a single “chip” that will then all communicate using the Freedom Fabric interconnect that they spent $334 million acquiring. Using the same tech for a dual-unit Zen APU with on-die graphics and HBM memory is completely within their capabilities, though unlikely at this stage.

Q: What is it like knowing Nvidia pays developers to use their Gameworks to make AMD look bad, despite games, such as Far Cry: Primal, work better with AMD when the game lacks Gameworks?

AMD: No GameWorks, no problems. I just hope gamers are beginning to see the pattern.

This was an interesting reply. Gameworks is a set of middleware that NVIDIA provides to developers to help them implement special effects in games that would normally take them many months to design and implement themselves. AMD continues to assert that Gameworks is affecting performance on their hardware, though it’s also up to game developers to make sure that these options aren’t on by default so that AMD Radeon users aren’t negatively affected by Gameworks out of the box.

Q: Does Polaris have a dedicated h264/h265 encoder/decoder chip or is it the gpu that’s able to do that?  I want a red team shadowplay otherwise I’ll have to upgrade to nvidia :/

AMD: Yes, it has h.265 encode and decode up to 4K.

Q: 60fps?

AMD: Yup.

Q: 10-bit H.264/5?

AMD: Double yup.

That’s another interesting decision. Currently NVIDIA does have H.265 video decode and encode capability in hardware, but it doesn’t seem to be implemented in Shadowplay just yet (the workaround is to use Handbrake’s NVENC options to transcode H.264 video to H.265 video accelerated by CUDA). If AMD can do H.265 transcoding on the fly while you’re gaming with no performance penalty, there’ll be some people who would migrate to that immediately for efficiency reasons while streaming their games.

Q: Fury X2, Whatever happened to it? Any word on release date?

AMD: The product schedule for Fiji Gemini had initially been aligned with consumer HMD availability, which had been scheduled for Q415 back in June. Due to some delays in overall VR ecosystem readiness, HMDs are now expected to be available to consumers by early Q216. To ensure the optimal VR experience, we’re adjusting the Fiji Gemini launch schedule to better align with the market.

The reality is that AMD could release a dual-GPU Fiji monster at any time, but having consumers find the value in owning one of these cards is easier when VR headsets are easily available. In this regard, I don’t disagree with AMD’s plans, though I really want to see how far they could take Fiji, and what kinds of chassis they could throw a dual-GPU implementation into.

AMD: Polaris parts will be unveiled mid-year. I cannot say much more at this time, but I hope that gives you enough detail to make some good conclusions.

This was in response to a question, but I felt that it needed to be considered on its own. There are rumors that NVIDIA will soft-launch Pascal next month at the GPU Technology Conference 2016, and because we haven’t seen any Pascal cards being shipped to testing centers, the assumption is that they’re nowhere near ready for launch. If AMD’s aiming for a mid-year launch, considering that they’ve had Polaris hardware working for a while, I think we’ll have a reveal AND a launch just a few weeks later.

Q: Are my 7970’s “fully” capable of next Gen API’s or are there going to be new hardware innovations with proprietary features that will lock me out? I could never find a clear answer for this!

AMD: I want to be clear that there is no graphics architecture on the market today that is 100% compliant with everything DX12 or Vulkan have to offer. For example: we support Async Compute, NVIDIA does not. NVIDIA supports conservative raster, we do not.

AMD not having hardware that is 100% compatible with DirectX 12, or Vulkan, isn’t news, but this means that Polaris will have full feature support for both.

Q: Following Anandtech’s look at AMD laptops, I’d like to know if there’s a realistic possibility of having high-end AMD graphics make a return in gaming notebooks.

AMD: Polaris. 🙂

This was my own question that I posed to AMD. Suffice to say, it looks like Polaris will be the play that AMD will make to return to the high-end notebook market.

Q: Daisy-chained Displayport 1.2a monitors with FreeSync… does it work?

AMD: It should. I have not tried.

Another one of my questions. Currently only two FreeSync monitors support daisy-chaining through Displayport 1.2a cables – the Acer XR341CK, and the AOC C3583FQ, which are as far apart as an iPad Pro is to a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Both have two DP 1.2a ports, but FreeSync over daisy-chained monitors is something that no-one on the internet seems to have tested. It’s a feature that NVIDIA’s G-Sync technology currently isn’t capable of.

And I’d really like to know why it works, if it even does. How on earth does it all sync up when you’re running the game on one GPU, and is there latency involved? Can identical monitors in a triple-display setup have different refresh rates? I’d really like to know.

Q: Will the cards [Polaris] come with DP1.4?

AMD: They will come with DP1.3. There is a 12-18 month lag time between the final ratification of a display spec and the design/manufacture/testing of silicon compliant with that spec. This is true at all levels of the display industry. For example: DP 1.3 was finished in September, 2014.

That’s something new. Polaris supporting Displayport 1.3 would also mean that AMD’s also updated the display outputs to support HDMI 2.0 as well. Displayport 1.3 is capable of driving UltraHD 4K monitors at 120Hz, UltraHD 5K monitors at 60Hz, and or 8K monitors (maddening as it seems), at 30Hz with 24-bit RGB colour.

Q: When will we see Vulkan support in the Linux driver?

AMD: The Vulkan Linux driver will be released soon.

All that I can say is “Yay!” Hallock also confirmed that the Linux driver which includes all of the updates made to the Windows drivers in Radeon Software Crimson would also be available sometime this month.

Source: AMD subreddit