AMD’s Roy Taylor Clarifies Polaris Mainstream Positioning – Aims The $349 Market, Mentions NVIDIA as a Worthy Competitor

Hassan Mujtaba
Posted Apr 27, 2016
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AMD announced their Q1 2016 earnings last week and reported some interesting numbers along with a list of announcements on new contracts and upcoming products. One of the key highlights of the earnings was AMD confirming that their Polaris GPU is aimed at the mainstream market. AMD has a lot of bets riding on their 4th generation Polaris GPUs which launch this quarter and AMD has further clarified the positioning of their next generation GCN products.

AMD’s Polaris GPUs Are Primarily Aimed at Mainstream VR Markets!

AMD’s Polaris May Not Be High-End But Can Cover The Entire Mainstream VR Market – Sweet Spot GPUs To Increase AMD’s Market Share

In an interview with Arstechnica, Roy Taylor (AMD’s Corporate Vice President) confirmed that Polaris will be a mainstream GPU and not a high-end. In fact, this is a good thing considering AMD’s most successful GPU in the Radeon 300 series has been their Radeon R9 390 series which is a $329 US product. NVIDIA also reported huge success with their GeForce GTX 970 that is also a $329 US product. AMD is specifically targeting the mainstream audience with their Polaris 10 and Polaris 11 GPUs and before we proceed onward, you should read what Roy had to say about Polaris:

AMD’s CVP Roy Taylor announced the Radeon Pro Duo at the Capsaicin 2016 event.

“The reason Polaris is a big deal, is because I believe we will be able to grow that TAM [total addressable market] significantly,” said Taylor.

“If you look at the total install base of a Radeon 290, or a GTX 970, or above, it’s 7.5 million units. But the issue is that if a publisher wants to sell a £40/$50 game, that’s not a big enough market to justify that yet. We’ve got to prime the pumps, which means somebody has got to start writing cheques to big games publishers. Or we’ve got to increase the install TAM.” via Arstechnica

We have already learned about the specifications of the upcoming Polaris GPUs. The lineup will include several products based on the Polaris 10 and Polaris 11 GPUs. The Polaris 11 is specifically designed for the notebooks while the Polaris 10 GPU will result in higher market share gains as it will be featured on mainstream products (Desktop discrete cards) and high-end notebooks.

The AMD Polaris GPU positioning was confirmed in the official 2015-2018 roadmap.

Since the emergence of VR market, the definition of mainstream has changed dramatically. The bare minimum specs required to handle VR gaming has been upped to cards such as the R9 290 and GTX 970 which retail at $299 US. Hence a new generation of VR capable cards that don’t break the $349 US barrier are needed and this is where AMD pits their Polaris 10 at.

AMD Polaris Radeon 400 Series "Preliminary" Specs:

WCCFRadeon R9 480 SeriesRadeon R9 480 SeriesRadeon R9 380 SeriesRadeon R9 470 SeriesRadeon R9 470 SeriesRadeon R7 370 Series
GPUPolaris 10Polaris 10TongaPolaris 11Polaris 11Pitcairn
Fabrication Process14nm FinFET14nm FinFET28nm14nm FinFET14nm FinFET28nm
Compute Units403632201616
GCN GenerationGCN 4.0GCN 4.0GCN 3.0GCN 4.0GCN 4.0GCN 1.0
Stream Processors2560 SPs2304 SPs2048 SPs1280 SPs1024 SPs1024 SPs
TMUsTBATBA128TBATBA64
ROPsTBATBA32TBATBA32
Memory Bus256-bit256-bit256-bit128-bit128-bit128-bit
Memory8GB GDDR58GB GDDR54 GB GDDR54GB GDDR54GB GDDR54GB GDDR5
TDP<150W<150W190W<50W<50W110W
PowerColor RX 480 Devil Pictured With A Custom Backplate And Overclocked GPU Clock Speed Info – Will Be Announced Soon

AMD and NVIDIA Will Engage In A Fiery Battle To Dominate The VR Market

The quote from Roy points out what we have mentioned before. Simply put, there are not a lot of users who have the budget to purchase a high-end graphics card. While the high-end market has definitely boomed a lot in the recent years thanks to increased performance and better hardware capabilities available. Usually, the high-end products retain the features of professional cards that are valuable additions for low-cost developers. The GeForce GTX Titan X and Radeon Pro Duo are such examples which can be purposed us gamer and work-station class cards.

The Radeon Pro Duo from AMD is a VR, Gaming and Workstation Ready Graphics Card.

From a gamer standpoint, the average user spends around $199-$399 US on a graphics card to play the latest AAA titles. NVIDIA’s own numbers provide a clear insight which shows that while 30% of their user base has upgraded to Maxwell, there are still a lot of users (around 80%) who don’t have a PC capable of reaching the PS4 level of graphics performance.

NVIDIA slides indicate their total GPU installed base and growth opportunities such as VR.

NVIDIA and AMD have entry level solutions in the market for such users but upcoming titles and VR demand ever increasing performance. With 1080P (60/90 FPS) becoming a minimum spec for AAA titles, the industry requires cards that not only perform well but do so with hurting the wallet of their consumer base and also prompts more users to shift to better VR-capable PCs.

The race to gain VR market share started last year with both NVIDIA and AMD being the major discrete GPU suppliers in the industry battling it off in the fight to VR dominance. But as they deliver more competitive solutions in the market, the end result will be better off for the consumer.

“I don’t think Nvidia is going to do anything to increase the TAM, because according to everything we’ve seen around Pascal, it’s a high-end part. I don’t know what the price is gonna be, but let’s say it’s as low as £500/$600 and as high as £800/$1000. That price range is not going to expand the TAM for VR. We’re going on the record right now to say Polaris will expand the TAM. Full stop.” via Arstechnica

In another statement, Roy points out that their competition from NVIDIA which is a Pascal won’t do anything to increase TAM. Roy believes that NVIDIA’s Pascal GPUs at minimum will be high-end parts retailing no less than $600 US. However, we know that NVIDIA is working on three Pascal GPUs, all of which are based on their GP104 chip (not the high-end GP100) and is going to power GTX 1080 and GTX 1070. The GeForce GTX 1070 replaces the GeForce GTX 970 ($329) while the GeForce GTX 1080 will replace the GTX 980 ($549 US) graphics cards.

It should be pointed that NVIDIA is already working on software and hardware solutions to increase the VR adoption. They are in the same field as AMD, building and developing range of new solutions and products to increase the graphics market share and install base of PCs that will be able to run VR content. With powerful software tools, NVIDIA expects the current 13-14 million VR user base to increase to 25 million.

AMD and NVIDIA have powerful software tools to run VR content on their graphics cards.

AMD also has powerful software tools backing their Radeon graphics cards. But even 25 million is just a fraction of worldwide PCs which sum up to over 1.5 Billion. Hence this is just 1-2% of the total PC market at best so the need to deliver better products to the rest of the audience at lower prices is a major concern for graphics companies.

It’s still interesting talk that AMD will be aiming for Polaris at the mainstream market and not high-end. But now that we know that AMD is replacing the $329 US products such as the Radeon R9 290 and Radeon R9 390, this confirms that AMD will have a really great product for consumers in this price range with twice the efficiency. It has already been rumored in a leak that the upcoming Polaris 10 GPU has performance nearing a GeForce GTX 980 Ti. Such a product at $299-$349 US would be a fantastic product for consumers willing to get a powerful PC.

AMD: “NVIDIA Is A Worthy Competitor, We Work With Them In Khronos and in Vulkan”

Roy also had a few words for NVIDIA and they aren’t as harsh as they used to be. We have seen AMD pointing fingers at NVIDIA’s Gameworks in the past but it seems like AMD currently sees NVIDIA is a worth competitor which is a good thing. In the past, In the past, NVIDIA’s CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, also stated that they respect the capabilities of their competitors (AMD).

“First of all, we respect our competitors, I mean we take our competition seriously. You know that as a company,  we compete pretty intensively and this is a company that has seen a lot of competition over the years and so we take competition seriously. We respect the capabilities of our competition. However, I think that its also very very clear that our business and our business model and our strategy is completely different than AMD and the graphics chip company it used to be along time ago and our company is just on a different trajectory.” Jen-Hsun said. NVIDIA Q3 2016 Earnings Call

“If you’re gonna have a competitor, make it a good one,” said Taylor in an interview with Ars at the VR World Congress expo in Bristol. “In the past we used to reference our competition, but now it’s just about us. I was so pleased at the positive approach [Nvidia] took when we suggested the VR Council. We also work with them in Khronos and on Vulkan. There’s no need for us to be antagonistic. They’re a worthy competitor, we’re doing some things we’re proud of that put us in a leadership position, and we’ll continue to compete with them to the benefit of everybody.” via Arstechnica

After their recent earnings call, AMD’s shares jumped 52% since it had beaten wall street expectations and it was all possible due to the new JV between AMD and THATIC (Tianjin Haiguang Advanced Technology Investment Co., Ltd.) to develop high-performance x86 SOC for the server market. AMD also confirmed that they have three semi-custom design wins ramping in 2H 2016 and 2017 which will bring a total of $1.5 Billion in future revenue. The future looks very positive for AMD as they have several new chips for graphics and CPU market in development to address the consumer, server and workstation market.

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