AMD first debuted the Radeon HD 7970 on a leading-edge 28nm process in December 2011. That GPU paved the way for a succession of hardware that tweaked and massaged the architecture whilst remaining on the same process. Four years later, both AMD and Nvidia were still on the same process, necessitating architecture innovation in order to boost performance - there was no free lunch usually associated by a move to a smaller geometry. With this restriction in place, it can be argued that Nvidia has done a better job by teasing out significant dollops of extra performance - both in hardware and software - until the next generation of manufacturing technology was fully baked.
That process transition time is now upon us. Nvidia moved over to a 16nm process from TSMC with the introduction of the Pascal-based GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 in the last two months, with both priced at premium levels to reflect their stature in the enthusiast segment. Today, AMD makes the full-scale move to a 14nm process by releasing the Radeon RX 480 based on a new architecture called Polaris.
Good business means mainstream appeal - setting the foundations
The normal procedure for a consumer graphics card launch used to be an unveiling of the rootin'-tootin' performance model first, followed by mainstream models that filled up the stack. This procedure has been turned on its head by Nvidia recently, with the GTX 980 coming before the GTX 980 Ti and GTX 1070/80 shipping before the big-die card. AMD is following a similar, even more conservative approach with Polaris, and we'll explain why.
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