Latest ATI Catalyst Drivers Reveal Code-Names of Future ATI Radeon Chips [UPDATED]

ATI Northern Islands Family Includes Seven Graphics Chips

by Anton Shilov
08/26/2010 | 07:28 PM

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.

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.