AMD RX 480, 470 & 460 Polaris GPUs To Deliver The “Most Revolutionary Jump In Performance” Yet

AMD's Raja Koduri unveiled two next generation 14nm GPUs, dubbed Polaris 11 and Polaris 10, to power high-end desktops and bring console-class gaming performance to notebooks. Both of these graphics processing units are based on AMD's recently announced next generation"Polaris" graphics architecture. Which features the high performance Samsung/Globalfoundries 14LPP FinFET manufacturing process technology

AMD Polaris 7
Both graphics processors have been showcased to journalists at CES 2016. Although photography of these graphics processors wasn't permitted, journalists were given the opportunity to take a good look at the actual silicon. Of the two GPUs one is very small, estimated to be around the same size as AMD's Cape Verde which is 123mm² large. While the other is a large GPU, described as a successor to the Radeon R9 Fury X.

AMD Planning To Give Nvidia's Pascal A Run For Its Money With Its Next Generation "Polaris" Graphics Architecture

The hallmark of AMD's next generation Polaris architecture is the highly anticipated move to the revolutionary FinFET process technology and considerable engineering focus on innovations to push architectural efficiency.

AMD describes Polaris as an architecture that will deliver a "historic" leap in performance per watt, and that's where the naming convention stems from. As stars are the most efficient photon generators in our universe, thus AMD found it only fitting to call its most ambitious graphics architecture to date "Polaris" after the brightest star seen from earth.

AMD Polaris 3

Excerpt from AMD's Official Press Release :
AMD's Polaris architecture-based 14nm FinFET GPUs deliver a remarkable generational jump in power efficiency. Polaris-based GPUs are designed for fluid frame rates in graphics, gaming, VR and multimedia applications running on compelling small form-factor thin and light computer designs.

"Our new Polaris architecture showcases significant advances in performance, power efficiency and features," said Lisa Su, president and CEO, AMD. "2016 will be a very exciting year for Radeon fans driven by our Polaris architecture, Radeon Software Crimson Edition and a host of other innovations in the pipeline from our Radeon Technologies Group."

Raja Koduri, vice president at AMD and chief architect of the Radeon Technologies Group holds a very ambitious goal of powering 90% of the world's pixels. To achieve that goal efficiency is key and just as stars are the world's most efficient photon generators, Koduri wants AMD graphics technology to be the world's most efficient pixel generators.


Polaris Is Designed For And Built On 14nm FinFET Process Technology

AMD’s Chief Technology Officer, Mark Papermaster, confirmed last year that AMD will be leveraging 14nm FinFET technology across its CPU, APU and GPU products. 

FinFET technology is expected to play a critical foundational role across multiple AMD product lines, starting in 2016, GLOBALFOUNDRIES has worked tirelessly to reach this key milestone on its 14LPP process. We look forward to GLOBALFOUNDRIES’ continued progress towards full production readiness and expect to leverage the advanced 14LPP  process technology across a broad set of our CPU, APU, and GPU products. – Press Release

Earlier this year AMD went on to officially announce Polaris and confirm that it will be indeed manufactured using the Samsung's high performance 14LPP process technology, which Globalfoundries has licensed.

AMD’s Polaris architecture-based 14nm FinFET GPUs deliver a remarkable generational jump in power efficiency. Polaris-based GPUs are designed for fluid frame rates in graphics, gaming, VR and multimedia applications running on compelling small form-factor thin and light computer designs.

14nm FinFET gives GPU design engineers nearly double transistors to play with in the same area as 28nm technology, which is the foundation of AMD's Fury series and 300 series as well as Nvidia's GTX 900 series. Additionally, 14nm FinFET transistors innately feature considerably faster switching speeds. Which in turn means chips designed on the process be it GPUs or otherwise can reach much higher higher clock speeds versus 28nm. 14nm FinFET transistors are also drastically more power efficient than 28nm. Resulting in chips that are not only faster but also consume a lot less power than before.

14nm FinFET Technology
14LPE – Early time-to-market version with area and power benefits for mobility applications

14LPP – Enhanced version with higher performance and lower power; a full platform offering with MPW, IP enablement and wide application coverage

Enthusiast And Mainstream Versions To Power Everything From High-End Desktops To Thin And Light Gaming Notebooks

Raja reiterated the company's plan to bring both GPUs to market availability by mid 2016. One is a high-end "enthusiast" version, while the other is a frugal power sipping console-class gaming GPU meant to deliver that level of performance to thin and light notebook form factors for the very first time. The small Polaris GPU will also target the mainstream gaming graphics segment for desktops, something which AMD's CEO Lisa Su pointed out in a roundtable discussion at CES 2016.

Polaris 10 And Polaris 11 ( RX 480, 470 & 460 ) Are AMD's Fastest And Most Power Efficient GPUs To Date

Speaking with Raja asserted that both Polaris 11 and Polaris 10 are "extremely power efficient".  He continued to say that these GPUs and the Polaris architecture in general will deliver "our most revolutionary jump in performance so far". Which are mighty exciting words for Radeon enthusiasts coming from the head of AMD's Radeon Technologies Group.

Raja Kodur, head of Radeon Technologies Group at AMD
Image Credit: Dean Takahashi via

Raja also spoke briefly about the makeup of the new graphics architecture. Featuring a new geometry processor, a redesigned command processor and completely new 4th generation Graphics Core Next compute units - the main component of all modern AMD GPUs - with "a very high increase in performance". He also spoke about the new multimedia cores and the new display engine in Polaris. Which will enable gamers to record and stream 4K gameplay at 60 FPS with no performance cost.

Raja Koduri, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect, Radeon Technologies Group, speaking with :

We have two versions of these FinFET GPUs. Both are extremely power efficient. This is Polaris 10 and that’s Polaris 11. In terms of what we’ve done at the high level, it’s our most revolutionary jump in performance so far. We’ve redesigned many blocks in our cores. We’ve redesigned the main processor, a new geometry processor, a completely new fourth-generation Graphics Core Next with a very high increase in performance. We have new multimedia cores, a new display engine.

In summary, it’s fourth generation Graphics Core Next. HDMI 2.0. It supports all the new 4K displays and TVs coming out with just plug and play. It supports display core 4.3, the latest specification. It’s very exciting 4K support. We can do HAVC encode and decode at 4K on this chip. It’ll be great for game streaming at high resolution, which gamers absolutely love. It takes no cycles away from games. You can record gameplay and still have an awesome frame rate. It’ll be available in mid-2016.

Early AMD Polaris GPU Samples Are Already More Than Twice As Power Efficient As Nvidia's GTX 900 Series Maxwell GPUs

Now it's important to point out that one of these GPUs has already been publicly demoed live against Nvidia’s GTX 950 running Star Wars Battlefront at 60 FPS.

With two identical systems running Star Wars Battlefront, a reading of the active power usage of each system was recorded via a power meter. The Polaris - small Polaris i.e. Polaris 10 - equipped system recorded an average of 86W, while the Maxwell based GTX 950 machine recorded an average of 150W in the actual demonstration that saw, and 140W in AMD's labs. This amounts to a delta of 53W if we go by the lower recorded average power of 140W and a 63W delta if we go by the reading the we saw during the demo.

Intel Core i7 4790K with 4x4GB DDR4-2600 MHz memory, Windows 10 64bit.
Star Wars Battlefront, X-wing Training
Med Preset @1080p. AMD Polaris GPU tested with 16.10 beta drivers . The GTX 950 tested with 359.06 drivers.

In other words the Nvidia GTX 950 system used 63-74% more power to deliver the same performance. Additionally, if we take into account that a GTX 950 would normally average less than 100W on its own excluding other system components. This indicates that the Polaris video card is only using roughly 50W, making it twice as power efficient as the Nvidia Maxwell based GTX 950 graphics card. Which is a very significant power efficiency lead, mind thanks to 14nm FinFET technology and intelligently power efficient architectural design. Finally, the Polaris graphics chip tested was an early engineering sample and both hardware and driver optimizations are still on-going so additional power efficiency improvements can be expected.

Raja Koduri, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect, Radeon Technologies Group, speaking with :

This is very early silicon, by the way. We have much more performance optimization to do in the coming months. But even in this early silicon, we’re seeing numbers versus the best class on the competition running at a heavy workload, like Star Wars—The competing system consumes 140 watts. This is 86 watts. We believe we’re several months ahead of this transition, especially for the notebook and the mainstream market. The competition is talking about chips for cars and stuff, but not the mainstream market.


Interestingly, AMD confirmed to us yesterday that while it remains committed to the High Bandwidth Memory technology it co-invented with SK Hynix and brought to the market last year, Polaris remains compatible with both HBM/HBM2 and GDDR5 memory standards. Technical marketing lead at AMD Robert Hallock explained that they have the flexibility to use either technology as the need arises. As such each memory technology will be employed in the market segments where it makes sense.

AMD helped lead the development of HBM, was the first to bring HBM to market in GPUs, and plans to implement HBM/HBM2 in future graphics solutions.

At this time we have only publicly demonstrated a GDDR5 configuration of the Polaris architecture.It’s important to understand that HBM isn’t (currently) suitable for all GPU segments due to the current HBM cost structure. In the mainstream GPU segment, GDDR5 remains an extremely cost-effective, efficient and viable memory technology.

Polaris graphics cards are set to launch next summer, before the back to school season, on both desktops and gaming notebooks.

AMD Radeon Graphics Architectures

GPUProcessTransistors In BillionsPerformanceMemoryBandwidth
Southern Islands2012HD 7970 GhzTahiti28nm4.3 4.1 TFLOPS3GB GDDR5264GB/s
Volcanic Islands2013R9 290XHawaii28nm6.25.6 TFLOPS4GB GDDR5320GB/s
Caribbean Islands2015R9 Fury XFiji28nm8.98.6 TFLOPS4GB HBM1512GB/s
POLARIS2016RX 480Polaris 1014nm5.75.2 TFLOPS8GB GDDR5256 GB/s
VEGA2017RX Vega 64Vega 1014nm12.513 TFLOPS8GB HBM2480GB/s
VEGA Refresh



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1 TB/s
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