With the New Year quickly approaching, AMD’s HD 7000-series and its GCN architecture is about to celebrate its first birthday. After a year on the market, it’s time for the architecture to undergo a refresh and the notebook segment is going to be the first to benefit with AMD’s upcoming HD 8000M series of mobile graphics processors.
At this point, not much is actually known about these new chips but after an all to quick presentation by AMD today, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge. First and foremost, the initial HD 8000M entrants will use a slightly revised GCN architecture that boasts increased overall efficiency, higher memory clocks and optimized on-die resource distribution. Boost capability will also be incorporated onto some dies instead of only being reserved for higher end desktop parts. The will also implement a “Solar” naming scheme so expect product designations (ie: code makes) based on planetary bodies like Venus and Mars. Additional concrete information isn’t available at this point since AMD’s cards are being played close to their chests but we do know the HD 8000M series will be officially announced on January 7th, right before CES. Notebooks supporting these new discrete graphics will be launched around that time as well (even though some have already been leaked) so expect reviews on Hardware Canucks soon.
For the time being, AMD is solely focused on providing the mid-level and mainstream gaming segments with refreshed products. In order to accomplish this, the first HD 8000M graphics processors to become available will be the HD 8500M, HD 8600M, HD 8700M and HD 8800M series, each of which will incorporate full DX11.1 support. These refreshed parts are being billed as evolutionary rather than being revolution and these products’ specifications bear this out.
The HD 8500M and HD 8600M are particularly important since they replace HD 7000M GPUs which were based off of AMD’s older Northern Islands architecture (ie: the HD 6000 series) so we could see vastly improved performance per watt in one of today’s most sought-after niches. Another important aspect is the additional capabilities these new cores bring to the table; their 28nm manufacturing process, an upgraded UVD decoding engine, better compute throughput and a number of other aspects are all hallmarks that were sorely missing from this segment.
AMD’s HD 8700M and HD 8800M are actually the real question marks here. With the admittedly small number of differences between the first and second generation GCN-based mobile architectures, finding points of distinction between these new GPUs and Cape Verde-based parts may not be all that clear cut. Nonetheless, AMD assures us their designs have moved forward and end users will see benefits, especially since the new HD 8000M series will bring GDDR5 memory to lower price points, thus improving performance in certain applications.
From a high level standpoint AMD’s new product stack is undergoing a broad scale rationalization which could mean cutting down on the number of models within each product category. This in effect could improve AMD’s overall offering by cutting down on consumer confusion and will allow clearer juxtaposition with NVIDIA’s offerings. But will this be successful against NVIDIA lineup that seems to be dominating the notebook market? We certainly hope so.
While the entry level is currently receiving the lion’s share of AMD’s attention, several other cores will be introduced in Q2 2013. This will include a pair of enthusiast-level GPUs which will plunge into the space vacated by the HD 7900M and compete against NVIDIA’s GTX 670M and GTX 680M. Meanwhile, yet another HD 8000M offshoot will be parachuted into a gap between the mainstream and “performance” segments.
For the time being, AMD’s lower-end HD 7400M series will remain as is, and the reason for that should be self-evident. There’s a need to retain strict separation between APU and GPU so neither will step on the other’s toes. So with the Kaveri and Kabini successors to Trinity already in the pipeline, AMD is likely keeping this section free and open in preparation for next generation APUs. With that being said, the HD 8000M series won’t be compatible with Trinity’s Dual Graphics technology which leverages a discrete GPU alongside the APU’s onboard unit for higher in-game performance.
AMD’s Enduro technology was originally conceived as a way to compete with NVIDIA’s Optimus GPU switching. With a claimed ability to seamlessly switch between a discrete GPU and the on-die integrated graphics subsystem, it could increase battery life and dynamically control TDP of two hot-running components.
Unfortunately, AMD’s first time at bat didn’t go quite as planned since Enduro went through its fair share of growing pains. The situation has supposedly improved on the HD 8000M series through the use of an improved user interface and revised application detection.
With so much weight being put upon the Mobile and Notebook markets, AMD needs to hit this one out of the park from a number of perspectives. The initial performance numbers given to us do show some promise, particularly against NVIDIA’s ultra-popular GT 650M, but there are still some challenges ahead for the HD 8000M. The first area of concern is a lack of information about their partners on this launch. While we have been assured that several products will be available at launch, AMD has to significantly build upon the HD 7000M’s somewhat limited market penetration.
With this bit of initial information, some of you are likely wondering where the rumored desktop parts figure into this equation. At this point, AMD is focused upon refreshing their mobile parts but the desktop HD 8000 series products will follow sometime afterwards, possibly in Q2 2013 so we’re still a ways off from seeing AMD’s entire 2013 GPU product stack. Until then, we’re excited to see what these new GPUs have to offer for notebooks.