AMD reveals details of new Vega GPU architecture, goes all-in on HBM2

AMD’s Radeon RX 460, 470 and 480 were well received when released in 2016, and for good reason. The cards performed well, at reasonable prices. But the red team’s focus was strictly on the budget to mid-range market, which left gamers who want a powerful card without a good option from the red team.

That option still isn’t out yet, but now we know more about the architecture it’s based on, code-named Vega. AMD calls it the “world’s most scalable GPU memory architecture,” and that claim is not hot air. The company is making a number of tweaks to try and rid video cards of bottlenecks and build a foundation that can easily be modified for workloads with different demands.

The headline feature is the long-rumored adoption of High Bandwidth Memory 2 (HBM2). The original incarnation of HBM was picked up by AMD’s Radeon Fury line, and it gave those cards excellent memory performance. HBM2 does the same.

Compared to GDDR5, HBM2 can squeeze more memory into a smaller space. AMD says that means it offers twice the bandwidth “per pin,” and a 50 percent smaller footprint. We already saw that benefit in the Fury line. Those cards were very powerful, but also small – though AMD hasn’t said anything about the size of the final Vega cards.

Adopting HBM2 is great, but good memory is only as good as the GPU architecture its connected to. To solve that problem, AMD is using a high-bandwidth cache controller with a virtual address space of 512TB.

The over-arching goal of Vega’s design is to improve memory efficiency. AMD says most game developers code games to load far more data than they need as a hedge against hesitation, in case a game asset is called for but not found in memory. This is why modern games often require four gigabytes of memory at their highest detail settings. The faster memory design of AMD should allow quicker delivery of assets when called for. That, in turn, means games won’t need to consume as much of Vega’s memory.

Memory efficiency may be Vega’s most important enhancement, but it’s not alone. There’s also a new geometry pipeline, embracement of primitive shaders, and improved load-balancing. All these changes aim to reduce the need to draw assets that won’t actually be visible once the final frame of a game is viewed.

And then there’s Vega’s next-generation compute unit. AMD’s tactic here is clever. Rather than increasing precision of math, AMD is decreasing it – or, rather, giving developers that option. Math calculated at a lower level of precision can be processed more quickly, and many calculations in games don’t require a high level of precision. For example, Vega quotes 128 32-bit operations per clock, per compute unit. But if computed at 8 bits, it can handle 512 operations per clock.

These improvements are not all the new platform includes, but they’re by far the most important. The changes to the memory architecture, and the flexible compute precision, should prove the most important. If scalability is the goal, these changes seem like a great way to go about it, and they may solve memory issues that are becoming increasingly troublesome in modern games. On the other hand, nothing here tells us how fast Vega will be in raw compute capability, and that’s been the weakness of AMD’s high-end video cards. They simply haven’t matched Nvidia’s fastest.

While we now know a lot more about the architecture, we still don’t know anything about availability and pricing. AMD refuses to say anything firm about either. If past announcements are any guide, that means we’re at least a few months away from availability. But hey –- at least AMD’s fans can sate their appetite on Ryzen.

Computing

Leaked AMD Ryzen 3000 mobile benchmarks look fit for thin, low-power laptops

AMD is poised to give Intel a run for its money in the ultra-low-power processor space for laptops. Leaked benchmarks for the Ryzen 3000 APU series show the AMD processor besting Intel's Core i7 Y series in multicore performance.
Computing

Intel's dedicated GPU is not far off -- here's what we know

Did you hear? Intel is working on a dedicated graphics card. It's called Arctic Sound and though we don't know a lot about it, we know that Intel has some ex-AMD Radeon graphics engineers developing it.
Computing

Intel's discrete graphics will be called 'Xe,' IGP gets Adapative Sync next year

Intel has officially dubbed its discrete graphics product Intel Xe, and the company also provided details about its Gen11 IGP. The latter will include adaptive sync support and will arrive in 2019.
Computing

The Titan RTX graphics card is nearly here. Here's what you need to know

The Nvidia Titan RTX is arguably the most powerful consumer graphics card ever made, even if it's not really aimed at consumers. It bridges the 2080 Ti and RTX Quadro cards with boat loads of power.
Virtual Reality

Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive: Prices drop, but our favorite stays the same

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are the two big names in the virtual reality arena, but most people can only afford one. Our comparison tells you which is best when you pit the Oculus Rift vs. HTC Vive.
Computing

Microsoft’s Windows 95 throwback was just an ugly sweater giveaway

Microsoft's "softwear" announcement wasn't what we had hoped for. Thursday's announcement was not the new line of wearable tech or SkiFree monster sweater we wished for. But it did deliver the 90s nostalgia we wanted.
Computing

Canada’s winters inspired a startup to warm homes with cryptomining heat waste

Cryptomining may be the key to untold riches and the future of currency, but it’s also an environmental nightmare. Heatmine, thinks it has the answer, but it could mean bolting a mining rig onto every home and business in the country.
Home Theater

Confused about LED vs. LCD TVs? Here's everything you need to know

Our LED vs. LCD TV buying guide explains why these two common types of displays are fundamentally connected, how they differ, what to look for in buying an LED TV, and what's on the horizon for TVs.
Deals

The best MacBook deals for December 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Computing

How to connect AirPods to your MacBook

If you have new AirPods, you may be looking forward to pairing them with your MacBook. Our guide will show you exactly how to connect AirPods to MacBook, what to do if they are already paired with a device, and more.
Computing

Hitting ‘Check for updates’ in Windows 10 opts you into beta releases

Users who are careful about keeping their system updated should watch out -- Microsoft revealed this week that clicking the Check for updates button in Windows can opt you in to testing beta code.
Product Review

The Asus ZenBook 14 is a tiny notebook that gets lost in the crowd

The ZenBook 14 aims to be the smallest 14-inch notebook around, and it succeeds thanks to some tiny bezels. Performance and battery life are good, but the notebook lacks a standout feature other than size.
Computing

Secure your Excel documents with a password by following these quick steps

Excel documents are used by people and businesses all over the world. Given how often they contain sensitive information, it makes sense to keep them from the wrong eyes. Thankfully, it's easy to secure them with a password.
Computing

Which Macs are compatible with MacOS Mojave?

Is your computer ready for Apple's big Mojave update? Here's what you need to know about MacOS Mojave compatibility, what Macs can successful download Mojave, and the requirements you need to know about.