ATI Radeon 4800 launch details: Meet (Terry) Makedon and Trojan (Horse)

  • TG Daily Exclusive – We previously published several details about AMD’s next-generation graphics card lineup and as we get closer to the launch we are getting more details about the launch date, feature set and prices. The good news: The new boards will come with “physics processing capability” and prices that will start below $200 for a 512 MB board. The bad news: The 4800 series will launch after Nvidia’s GT200.

    Yes, we know, we previously said that the 4800 series would launch in May, but as it stands right now, we won’t be seeing the first new cards until mid-June. According To AMD’s current introduction schedule, the Radeon 4800 series will launch in week 25, which puts the day of the introduction somewhere between June 15 and June 22. What is significant about this time frame is that ATI will trail Nvidia and their new high-end chip GT200.  

    This comes as a major surprise, because it was widely expected that ATI will debut its RV770 chip first, followed by Nvidia's summer part. But as it stands right now, Nvidia has the pole position in a new round of the graphics wars. Of course, the GT200 and RV770 are actually not entirely comparable, because of their huge price difference. But performance-wise, we're in for a possibly close race.

    ATI's Radeon 4800 series will be introduced in three flavors - as 4850, 4870 and 4870 X2. The company will also offer a “4850 256MB” (as opposed to 512 MB in other versions), but this SKU is a so-called "option" and is geared towards to the OEM/ODM/SI crowd to support them with cheaper parts for the back-to-school period and beyond.

    The Radeon 4850, code-named “Makedon,” is AMD's launch board. The name, by the way, is likely to refer to Terry "Catalyst" Makedon, group manager for software and video in the AMD (ATI) graphics division.  Of course, there is a small chance that Alexander The Great (Alexandros Megas, Alexandar Makedonski) may have influenced the naming, but somehow we feel that Terry has won this time.

    The 4850 board features 512 MB of GDDR3 memory and is expected to be available in volume at launch. We heard that card vendors will start printing their boxes next week, which means that the specifications are final at this time. According to our sources, the 4850 will come with single-slot cooling; CrossFireX is supported with up to four boards in a single system (if you have the appropriate board based on AMD 790FX, 790GX, Intel Skulltrail, X48) and each board will require a single 6-pin PCIe power connector.

    AMD will follow up in July and launch the Radeon 4870 512 MB GDDR5 and the 4870 X2 1024 MB GDDR5 (R700). The Radeon 4870 chip is built onto a board codenamed “Trojan” (could be named after a condom brand or a horse; we pick the latter) and comes with a dual-slot cooler, following the tradition of earlier XX70 boards. Our previous information about the memory buffer was a bit inaccurate, since the cost of Qimonda's GDDR5 memory apparently was not compatible with the targeted pricing of these cards. The 4870 includes 512MB GDDR5 memory and surpasses upcoming Nvidia cards in terms of bandwidth. However, if any ATI partner wants to build a 1024 MB GDDR5 board, ATI will not say no, we were told. But don't expect this to happen until early fall, since everybody wants to move as many units as possible.

    In terms of performance, we heard some interesting claims. A 4870 should perform on par with or better than a dual-chip 3870 X2. Our sources explained to us that using a PCIe Gen1 controller 3870 X2 was a mistake, since the board was hungry for data and didn't sync well with this interface. Don’t expect the ATI team to repeat that mistake with the 4870 X2. However, we admit that we have no idea what kind of connection two RV770 GPUs will have.

    Looking at features, ATI will promote DirectX 10.1, PCI Express 2.0, dynamic geometry acceleration and other functions that were introduced with the Radeon 3800 series. What surprises us is that the manufacturer is highlighting a "Game physics processing capability" in its launch materials. Since ATI didn't bid for Havok (which ended up in Intel’s lap) and Nvidia snapped up PhysX we wonder who provides a physics engine for ATI. Perhaps the company took a completely different direction and it simply expanded its GPGPU capabilities from professional FireStream cards to the desktop.

    The Radeon 4800 series also includes 7.1 channel-via-HDMI support and color output also got a “significant” boost, our sources said. We were unable to confirm HDMI 1.3 support, but we would not be surprised if that in fact is the case. The Unified Video Decoder is now in generation 2 and is called "UVD2".

    Every aspect of the GPU is monitored by PowerPlay, since ATI will be very aggressive on the power side: The boards have been designed with power in mind and the 4850/4870 won't require 8+6-pin combinations (exception: The dual-GPU 4870 X2). Power supply requirements call for a 450 watt unit for a single card and a 550 watt version for two cards. Given the fact that ATI has to state this for PoS power supplies, CrossFire should do just fine with a top notch 400 watt power supply.

    Let’s talk about pricing. AMD decided to remain aggressive in an effort to win back market share. Pricing is actually set to a point where Nvidia is unlikely to be able to compete (that is at least what somebody is hoping for). Pricing guidelines are not finalized at this time, but according to several sources, the Radeon 4850 will succeed the 3850 512MB and should cost about $189-$219 at launch. Our sources indicated that 4870 GDDR5 cards will cost between $249 and $279, but somehow we feel that AMD might aim go for $199 and $249 at launch.

    Given the current market, these prices could stir up the market and create quite a circus. Radeon cards could be getting lots of design wins for the back-to-school market, but our sources warned us that ATI is a bit late to the party. Qualifying of systems takes time, and tens of thousands of machines take time to be manufactured and shipped to North America. For Europe, things are more lenient, since nobody works in August and schools/universities start in September or October.

    All in all, ATI will have one helluwa June and July. All eyes are now on Nvidia: Will Nvidia create a decent competitor for the sub-$300 range (55nm G92 is being prepared), or will AMD/ATI will gain market share?

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