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UPDATE: Changing assumptions regarding positioning of graphics processors.

The latest ATI Catalyst drivers released on Wednesday apparently contain a list of future graphics processing units' code-names. Unfortunately, the list brings more questions than reveals any particular answers.

There is a mess with the code-names of graphics processors families and graphics processors themselves at AMD. The Northern Islands (NI) desktop graphics processors were supposed to be made using 32nm bulk process technology, according to AMD’s official slides demonstrated in late October, 2009, in Japan. Most likely, the Northern Island chips were meant to be made at TSMC, which scrapped the process technology, automatically postponing the NI family. As a result, many unofficial sources reported that the next desktop ATI Radeon HD-series of products will be based on code-named Southern Islands (SI) chips that will feature elements of both Evergreen (Radeon HD 5000) as well as NI and will be made using 40nm fabrication process at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Based on the previously reported information, it is logical to assume that the SI lineup comes earlier than the NI, but the latest Catalyst 10.8 drivers list graphics processors that belong to the Northern Islands family. Either AMD's graphics business unit is indeed working on the NI family of GPUs and the product release is nearing; or some of the engineers have forgotten to remove mentions of chips that may exist in silicon, but will not be launched in a while; or the company intentionally listed the chips along with PCIe IDs to misinform competitors and market observers.

Even though it is unclear whether Northern Islands is the next-generation of desktop ATI Radeon graphics processors, or will power a later breed of graphics processing units (GPUs), the list discovered by ATI-oriented Rage3D web-site looks curious. It should be noted that the next-generation of mobile graphics chips by ATI is called Vancouver, which means that the NI family does not include notebook parts.

Apparently, the NI family of GPUs will include seven chips: Barts, Blackcomb, Caicos, Cayman, Seymour, Turks, Whistler; in addition, the list contains loads of code-names of graphics boards. Seven chips with different code-names for a graphics cards family is very unusual quantity. For example, ATI Radeon HD 5000-series consists of four chips, just like the Radeon HD 4000. Nonetheless, the history knows examples of more than four chips per desktop GPU family, but the only difference between those products were their manufacturers: TSMC or UMC.

The names of chips and boards do not give a clear understanding of the ATI Northern Islands family. But at least some assumptions can be made.

  • There is a possibility that Blackcomb, Seymour and Whistler do not belong to the NI family, but to the mobile Vancouver family since all three are places in Canada, Vancouver area, not islands. This leads to certain new conclusions:
    • Barts, Caicos and Cayman are chips to replace Cypress, Juniper and Redwood (not on that order, though), all made using 40nm at TSMC and all will be released starting October, 2010, and throughout Q1 2011.
    • Turks is a pipe cleaner for 28nm process technology at Globalfoundries. There is hardly any need for a 40nm replacement for Cedar.
    • Anything marked with Gemini moniker should mean dual-chip solution for notebooks, which does not seem to make a lot of sense.
  • ATI has to produce the first NI chip at TSMC on the 40nm node. It is likely that the company starts first with the higher-end GPU to substitute the Radeon HD 5870/5850 boards and which will later serve in the dual-chip flagship product that will replace the Radeon HD 5970. There are two possibilities here:
    • Whatever chip powers a card carrying a name different from the chip's, may be the most powerful GPU in the line (e.g., Cayman may substitute HD 5870 and Antilles - powered by two Caymans - will replace the HD 5970).
    • Assuming that Blackcomb, Seymour and Whistler are indeed desktop NI parts and Gemini designators may mean dual-chip, then the three can assume the roles of the most powerful graphics processors in different periods. This theory has its own weak side(s):
      • GPU designers tend to power professional graphics cards (marked as GL in the table) with the most powerful chips, but neither of the aforementioned carry the GL moniker. This is strange even if those three are indeed mobile products since mobile workstations are rather popular and so are professional graphics accelerators for notebooks.
      • Since the LP moniker may mean low-power, it is possible to assume that ATI readies low-power dual-chip graphics cards for users desiring high graphics performance amid decent power requirements. This does not make a lot of sense on the desktop. Moreover, LP designator was used to describe mobile chips in the Manhattan family.
      • Assuming that Blackcomb, Seymour and Whistler are candidates to power desktop flagship graphics cards, then one of them should be made usinng 40nm at TSMC and released in 2010, whereas two others should be made using 28nm process technologies at Globalfoundries and TSMC in the second half 2011. The latter theory is unlikely since in the second half of 2011 the NI graphics family will likely be replaced with something newer.
  • Considering that Turks is not intended for pro applications and will exist in three versions, one of which will be considerably different than to others, the chip may be a pipe-cleaner for certain process technology. In fact, this is the most likely candidate to be the first 28nm GPU at Globalfoundries in almost any scenario.
  • Featuring only PRO designators, the Caicos is likely to be an entry-level solution, yet, powerful enough for certain professional applications.
  • In fact, Caspian is not an island, but a sea, whereas Onega is a lake.

At this point any predictions may be incorrect considering the fact that there is intentionally no exact logic in the naming scheme. Considering the fact that 28nm process technology is around the corner, it is hardly likely that the better part of seven chips will be made using 40nm at TSMC.

AMD did not comment on the news-story.

Tags: ATI, Radeon, Barts, Blackcomb, Caicos, Cayman, Seymour, Turks, Whistler, Northern Islands, Southern Islands, AMD

Discussion

Comments currently: 2
Discussion started: 08/27/10 04:24:28 AM
Latest comment: 08/28/10 05:18:23 PM
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1. 
Well, that's a lot of "theories"...

Here's my "theory": all this "southern" islands vs "northern" islands families of chips is simply a result of the writer's lack of willingness to take a look at a map. Sometime last year he (wrongly) assumed that the codenames Ibiza, Cozumel and Kauai implied ATI was working on a southern islands family but now he (rightly) assumes that the codenames Barts, Turnks, Caicos and Cayman imply that ATI is has been working on a northern islands family.

As you can see for yourself in the following list of approximate latitudes, some of the islands he considers "southern" are further north than all of the ones he consideres "northern"...

- Ibiza: 39 deg North
- Kauai: 22 deg North
- Turks and Caicos: 21 deg North
- Cozumel: 20 deg North
- Cayman: 19 deg North
- St. Barts: 17 deg North

Cheers!
0 0 [Posted by: scotiafax  | Date: 08/27/10 04:24:28 AM]
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lol... Northern islands were "logical successor" on Evergreen throne by name (cool and green oriented something we hadn't seen since X800XT vs 6800Ultra times) ... and Southern, well southern came out when TSMC ATI's production plans so they have to go south and design backup parts
God know what ATi will came up with or when, after nVidia's stalling of GPU market for 9 month. It's sad, to put it mildly, to see gtx460, that offers similar performance per watt as hd5850/5870, came out almost a year after ATi's cards and ATi readily cashes out this opportunity.
0 0 [Posted by: OmegaHuman  | Date: 08/28/10 05:18:23 PM]
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