David Wong from Wells Fargo asked great and direct question during AMD’ss financial Q1 2014 conference call, as he wanted to know the future of AMD’s graphics chips beyond 28nm.
When asked whether AMD will have have any 20nm GPUs this year or next year, Lisa Su SVP and General Manager of AMD’s Global Business Unit said: “We are 28nm this year, we have 20nm in design, and then FinFET thereafter. So that's the overall product portfolio.”
Lisa didn’t want to be specific about graphics versus other products but it looks like 20nm is 2015 for both APUs and GPUs. AMD surprised many observers with its latest Hawaii generation of 28nm parts that ended up quite competitive and cheaper than competing products, but the real 20nm successor might be coming in 2015.
Nvidia apparently is working hard to ship its 20nm GPUs before the end of the year. GPUs will definitely benefit in shrinking from 28nm to 20nm. As the power consumption goes down, you can put much more transistors and greatly increase the computational power GPUs on new nodes. At the same time, you need less current to power the transistors and you are making the more efficient GPU and the performance per watt increases significantly.
It took TSMC much longer than anyone expected to prepare for volume production of 20nm parts and Qualcomm is the first company to start volume production of its 20nm modems. In the second half of the year we expect to see some Snapdragon 810 chips manufactured in 20nm, as well as Apple SoCs. GPUs are very complex and challenging the manufacture. They usually a few billion transistors and need a lot of power. When you pack 6.2 billion transistors on a 28nm die like AMD’s Hawaii XT, or 7.08 billion on an Nvidia’s 28nm GK110 part, you end up with a lot of heat. The 20nm transition is something that GPU designers desperately need to offer a significant performance leap forward.
The Radeon R9 290 and R9 290X were announced in last days of Q3, September 25th 2013, and started shipping in Q4 2013. Maybe AMD can surprise us again but right now it looks like we will not see 20nm AMD GPUs before the end of the year. We do not know whether or not AMD has any plans to introduce tweaked versions of its 28nm Hawaii GPU before it transitions to 20nm. Bear in mind that Nvidia launched multiple GK110 parts long after the original design was announced. These include the GTX 780 Ti, which was launched to counter AMD’s Hawaii XT products. In theory AMD could do the same and try to squeeze out a bit more power out of Hawaii, provided it makes financial sense.
Otherwise we won’t see anything new in AMD’s high-end GPU portfolio until the 20nm node is ready.