AMD Radeon Branding Emphasizes Efficiency Rather Than Performance

AMD's high-end Radeon 6000 series graphics cards may be the first in the Radeon series not to bear the "ATI" title, which AMD dropped in August to simplify its name, but the chipmaker is still grappling with confusion around its brand.

On Oct. 21, AMD released the 6850 and 6870 Radeon cards. However, according to virtually every benchmark for performance, AMD's new 6000 series is actually slower than the company's highly successful 5900 series released last year.

"In a perfect world, we'd always like to see straight forward naming conventions from manufacturers that consistently convey information about a card or chip's performance relative to other cards in their line," said Mike Mahanay, general manager, sales and marketing at Portland, OR.-based system builder CTL."There does seem to be a lot of confusion in the market around AMDs 6000 series cards."

The confusion stemming from this counterintuitive choice may have even overshadowed the 6000 series' major advantages: efficiency and pricing. The use of the highest numbers in the Radeon family on a card other than the fastest available suggests to some that GPU processor speeds are no longer as important as they used to be.

Sponsored post

Vendors may be running low on customers who require improved performance and could be focusing on applications instead, according to James Huang, product marketing manager at Amax Information Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based custom system builder.

"How much processing power do you need to run a home computer? That's why AMD is interested in Radeon rather than Firestream," Huang said referring to the line of stream processors for broader high-performance computing applications which AMD also acquired in its purchase of ATI. "As we all know they're getting more market share in the desktop market, and the Radeon series will help them gain even more market share."

In addition, some system builders now say power efficiency considerations have more bearing than pure performance on whether or not users can run certain applications that require graphics processing.

"It is important to separate 'frequency' from 'amplitude' in the video card wars, "said Joshua Liberman, president of Albuquerque, NM.-based solution provider Net Sciences. "Frequency can be thought of as the variety of applications a card or chipset can be employed in; lower power means higher 'frequency'. 'Amplitude' can be thought of as processing power. While higher power cards and chipsets are sexy, lower power, higher frequency cards such as the new 6800s dominate."

Next: System Builders On Processing Speeds

"Lots of uses for moderate GPU computing power abound, from the Windows Aero interface to the new Internet Explorer 9," said Libermann. "The need for serious horsepower is far less common."

However, some in the system builder community disagree, and suggest that AMD will realize that offering a cheaper, more power-efficient GPU without the most impressive specifications won't suffice.

"For our customers, GPU speeds are as important as ever and I do think we'll end up seeing AMD introduce a higher-end performance upgrade," Mahaney said.

Some online reports suggest AMD could be preparing a more robust line of Radeon 6000 series desktop GPUs, one that exceeds the performance of the 5900 card. However, rather than add performance to the new Radeon 6850 and 6870 cards, a system builder who requested anonymity said based on the company's emphasis on Radeon at the HPC Advisory Council workshop in China earlier this year AMD could be expanding the reach of Radeon with its focus on features besides core count or processing speed.

"I was surprised to see this being mentioned at the HPC advisory council meeting. What was interesting is that AMD didn't say a word about the Firestream products," the system builder said. "I think there’s a wider trend to incorporate the GPU onto the CPU and you see Intel and Nvidia doing it too, because the only way that you can expand the market is to offer more unique solutions."

Intel's Sandy Bridge processor, due out next year, will combine GPU and CPU capabilities on a single die, the company said at its annual Intel Developer Forum in September. Meanwhile, Nvidia is busy exploring the possibilities of parallel processing with its Fermi architecture.

Based on discussions held at the HPC advisory council, the system builder said AMD could be planning to combine Firestream and Radeon with a new integrated processor. "They're basically the same chipsets. In GPU manufacturing, a parallel computing card or steam computing version usually follows a desktop GPU. So I wouldn't be surprised if a new flavor for Firestream comes out next year."

Though AMD's processors often include the most cores, the system builder said the number of cores "doesn't mean a processor will perform the best."

"That depends on how it is optimized and what applications are available. There aren't a lot of applications optimized for the Firestream products, and it’s the same with Radeon. All that power goes to waste," he added.