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Review: FIRST LOOK : AMD GPU!!

by Nick Haywood on 1 April 2005, 00:00

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qabb2

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AMD storm into the GPU market

AMD enter the GPU market!

Now it might be said that where Intel lead, AMD follow, but if we’re honest, that’s all just clever marketing and it has long been known that AMD run faster and cooler than certain Intel chips. But GPUs were an area that Intel did foray into and AMD wisely left well alone, probably believing it better to focus on CPUs instead.

But suddenly, out of nowhere, AMD have delivered a hammer blow to ATI, NVIDIA and Intel with a stunning new GPU that is set to light up the accelerator scene in a fashion not seen since 3Dfx brought out the Voodoo.

The new chip, codenamed Apollo Fir, has SIXTEEN, yes that’s right, SIXTEEN pixel pipelines. Throw in just about every damn shading technique and hardware feature you can think of and it would seem that on paper, AMD has just won the entire GPU market with its first chip.

And no, this isn’t just hyperbole, or me getting carried away with a press release. Taking a cue from the XFX SLI system with two NVIDIA 6800 Ultra 512MB boards, AMD have produced an engineering board with a massive 2GB of ultra-fast DDR2 memory.

HEXUS’ Technical Editor, Rys, has this to say:
“I’ve just taken a look at a leaked engineering spec for the Fir and at first glance it looks almost too good to be true, for a first graphics processor from AMD. Supporting a 256-bit memory bus and being fully compatible with WGF1.0 with its four quad fragment, and six vertex unit, setup means the chip won’t be small, even using AMD’s 90nm SOI process at their fabs in Dresden.

It’s going to have roughly the transistor count of a pair of current 130nm Athlon FX processors. It also looks like it can share vertex load with a dual core processor, too, letting you use one of the cores entirely for geometry processing, to go with the vertex units on the Fir core. It looks like impressive stuff, with it hinting at future virtualisation of the render core in a possible Apollo Fir 2006 refresh, to go with the WGF2.0 spec.

And 2GB of framebuffer will definitely come in handy for the upcoming version of Playboy: The Mansion that uses masses of uncompressed normal maps for even better breasticle fidelity.”


At the time of writing, AMD are remaining tight-lipped about any further specs and details such as core speeds were, unfortunately, not on our leaked spec sheet. From what we’ve seen though its likely that 3DMark scores will be somewhere up in the 30k range, putting the board way ahead of a Sun system. By the way, the world record is roughly 35K, so the Apollo is only 5K off as an 'out of the box product' and those figures are on an engineering sample board! All this power means that even high-end business users are going to be grabbing the board on release.

When asked to comment, ATI’s spokesperson, Louis Frappe-Mocha, had this to say;
“We’ve long known about the Apollo Fir as one of the AMD engineers is notoriously gobby after two pints and a curry, so we’ve been working on a similar system based on 8 R480 chips. To save space we’re stacking them two high in four piles on each board… we think that we’ll be able to push at least 24 pipelines as soon as the damn thing stops blowing all the fuses in the building when we plug it in…”

In a similar vein, NVIDIA remain officially unconcerned, as their spokeswoman, Sandy Beaches, stated:
“We’ve been working on a new version of the NV45, which effectively doubles the triple filtering pixel overlay relay quad pass scan of each geometric shape BEFORE the GPU even has the information needed. We’ve designed a way to create small wormholes within the GPU and we pass information through that way. Admittedly, there are stability issues and as soon as we get the main part of Taiwan back in this dimension, we’ll be going ahead with production”

Intel’s Hugh Jass had this to say about the AMD board:
“Look, stop bothering me, I KNOW I have a funny name, and oh yes, ha ha, it is so very funny, isn’t it? So now you’ve had your little giggle, why not go and bother someone else?”

So there you have it, the Apollo Fir looks to be the board of choice with no-one else even being able to get close until ATI can stop blowing electricity substations and NVIDIA can get Taiwan back within the same space/time envelope as us. Set for an April release you’d have to be a fool to miss out on this one!