AMD has acknowledged it won’t ship its consumer Vega GPUs this quarter — but while it’ll demo the cards at…
AMD’s Radeon Technology Group (RTG) held a Reddit AMA session yesterday and answered a number of questions about their upcoming Vega GPU. Those of you hoping for a quick launch are going to be disappointed. While the company demoed and discussed its Vega Frontier Edition this week at its financial analyst day, the company will not be launching a consumer Vega GPU at Computex or in June. The Frontier Edition, for professionals and scientists, will absolutely run games. But Raja recommends rather strongly that consumers not buy one if they’ re looking for any kind of value on the purchase (as it happens, we agree, since professional cards are vastly more expensive than their consumer counterparts) .
Here’s that particular section of the AMA:
We’ ll be showing Radeon RX Vega off at Computex, but it won’ t be on store shelves that week. We know how eager you are to get your hands on Radeon RX Vega, and we’ re working extremely hard to bring you a graphics card that you’ ll be incredibly proud to own. Developing products with billions of transistors and forward-thinking architecture is extremely difficult — but extremely rewarding — work. And some of Vega’s features, like our High Bandwidth Cache Controller, HBM2, Rapid-Packed Math, or the new geometry pipeline, have the potential to really break new ground and fundamentally improve game development… On HBM2, we’ re effectively putting a technology that’s been limited to super expensive, out-of-reach GPUs into a consumer product. Right now only insanely priced graphics cards from our competitors that aren’ t within reach of any gamer or consumer make use of it. We want to bring all of that goodness to you. And that’s not easy! It’s not like you can run down to the corner store to get HBM2. The good news is that unlike HBM1, HBM2 is offered from multiple memory vendors – including Samsung and Hynix – and production is ramping to meet the level of demand that we believe Radeon Vega products will see in the market.
For the past few months, I’ ve been wondering if HBM2 has run into more problems than initially expected. When AMD introduced HBM, it seemed to be taking a leadership position on memory technology, much as it did with its adoption of GDDR4 and GDDR5 (Nvidia skipped GDDR4 and didn’ t adopt GDDR5 until after AMD had done so) . At the time, it seemed that AMD would be the only company to field HBM, but that Nvidia and AMD would both use HBM2 for their next generation of 14nm graphics cards. Instead, we saw Nvidia opt for GDDR5X, while AMD had no high-end solution at all.
Fast forward to 2017, and we’ ve got AMD still stuck on GDDR5, GDDR6 waiting in the wings, and no sign of HBM2 on anyone’s consumer graphics cards. Nvidia has rolled HBM2 out on its highest-end Quadro line, but those GPUs still cost thousands of dollars more than your typical consumer parts. Nobody is pushing HBM2 to consumer hardware yet, and Raja’s specific willingness to call out HBM2 as the tech that’s been difficult to get into consumer parts as “not easy, ” seems to highlight what the hold-up is.
Several years ago, it looked as if HBM and HBM2 would become the de facto replacement for high-end graphics cards. Lower-end cards would still use GDDR5, but even this would eventually become less common, as RAM loadouts rose above 4GB for lower-end cards. That forecast looks much less certain now. If AMD and Nvidia can’ t get HBM2’s costs under control, it’ ll remain a fringe technology, limited to the highest-end SKUs. Once GDDR6 is widely available, both firms might move away from it altogether.
Of course, it’s still possible that these are growing pains and that HBM2 will sort itself out, but the longer it takes to get the hardware into market, the less likely that looks. AMD is already working on follow-up designs to Vega and Ryzen, and acknowledge during its FAD this week that it’s simultaneously building the follow-up parts to those follow-up parts at the same time. HBM2 simply hasn’ t emerged as the affordable next-generation technology we were hoping it would be, and I suspect — though again, this is a suspicion, not a claim — that HBM2 is the reason why Vega’s consumer launch is running late.*
* — AMD would undoubtedly quibble with whether Vega is late, since the chip will ship in a professional card within the first half of 2017, but let’s be realistic here. Consumer Vega hardware was expected in-market by Q2 2017, and AMD still isn’ t saying when the consumer cards will launch.