ATI, graphics products group of Advanced Micro Devices, has always allowed its partners among graphics cards suppliers to design their own high-end graphics cards, according to the company. Moreover, the largest maker of ATI Radeon-branded products, Sapphire Technologies, has a number of proprietary ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards and does not restrict itself with selling only reference products made under supervision.
“Our partners are free to design their own graphic cards,” said Chris Hook, a spokesman for Advanced Micro Devices, in a brief interview with X-bit labs.
For years Nvidia Corp., the arch-rival of AMD’s graphics products group, has not sold its high-end graphics processing units separately, but supplied its add-in card partners complete reference graphics boards that were made under Nvidia’s supervision by contract manufacturers. ATI does the same when it comes to high-performance products, but it also sells graphics chips separately (and has always done) to those makers who wish to develop their own print-circuit boards.
Selling complete reference-design graphics cards has several benefits, according to AMD: firstly, graphics cards suppliers may start selling new boards right after a GPU is presented to the public; secondly, graphics cards vendors do not have to spend resources on designing graphics cards; thirdly, since high-end graphics cards are hardly bestsellers, it does not make a lot of sense to design and make such products for graphics cards manufacturers.
“It is true that during the launch period of a new generation of technology, AMD/ATI produce reference designs and reference cards that are sampled to various partners. At this stage, all the cards are really the same product,” said Bill Donnelly, global PR director of Sapphire.
Nevertheless, within a very short time from launch, Sapphire starts to produce its own designed high-end and mainstream products, some engineered for performance, other are developed to be more cost-efficient in mass production.
“For example, Sapphire was the first partner to produce its own layout for the ATI Radeon HD 4850 that used different power controller circuitry and a much quieter cooler than the reference design. We have several versions, including Toxic editions [of ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870] which is overclocked and uses a Zalman heat-pipe cooler, and a standard edition with exclusive fan as well as the ATI Radeon HD 4850 X2,” Mr. Donnelly noted.
In fact, it does not take long to design own print circuit board (PCB) for high-end graphics cards. Obviously, it takes time to create exclusive ATI Radeon HD 4850 X2 (which is available only from Sapphire and which is hardly popular in the light of the Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 release at about $300 price-point), but generally, it takes weeks to create graphics cards that answers market requests.
“It can take several weeks to design, prototype and test a PCB, [or even] less if it is a variation of a mature product. Of course in the first place we start with design kits from ATI, then develop variations from there,” explained the head of Sapphire PR.
To sum up, all of ATI/AMD partners are free to acquire high-end graphics chips, not cards, and then design their own ATI Radeon HD 4850, 4870 or even 4870 X2 graphics cards provided that they can ensure stable supplies of GDDR3 or GDDR5 memory.