AMD demonstrates an RDNA 3 RX 7000 graphics card with chiplet technology

The next generation of AMD graphics cards is just around the corner and they promise to be revolutionary, regardless of whether they turn out to be performance leaders. That’s because the upcoming AMD Radeon RX 7000 series of graphics cards will be AMD’s first based on a chiplet design, according to comments made by President and CEO Dr. Lisa Su at the Ryzen launch event. 7000 of the company today. She also reiterated, in passing, AMD’s release date later this year for the first of these next-gen graphics cards, which will be based on the upcoming RDNA 3 architecture and 5nm process technology.

If you’ve been following AMD’s Ryzen processors, you may realize how important the chiplet aspect of this tease is, and you should what’s more I know it’s something that could help reduce the cost of GPUs. Before we get into the clues Dr. Su left behind, let’s get into some context.

First, some background: Chiplets vs. monoliths

Chipset designs aren’t exactly new, but we’ve recently seen AMD and now Intel take them to new heights. Essentially, a chiplet design consists of two or more independent silicon chips that have been tightly coupled into a single package. For illustration, see this image from Intel, which illustrates a conventional single-chip silicon package on the left and a four-chipset silicon package in the center and right.

Intel chip diagram

The use of chiplets is significant as it can facilitate the development of different products and help reduce production costs. When you create processors from silicon, a small defect anywhere on the chip can render the entire chip inoperable. This makes large chips that have larger areas more prone to such deadly defects and are more expensive to manufacture due to the additional time and resources used to produce them. Conversely, smaller chips may be cheaper to produce for the opposite reasons.

Let’s say for example you have a chip with an area of ​​20mm2. Right next to it, create four tiles, each with an area of ​​5mm2 and a cumulative area of ​​20mm2. The large chip is exactly the same size as the four smaller chips, and it may have taken about the same amount of resources to produce it. If a speck of dust gets anywhere on that big 20mm2 die during manufacturing, it could completely ruin it. Conversely, if that speck of dust landed on one of those other four chips, then only that 5mm2 die would be ready, meaning you’d waste less resources overall.

Chiplets in… GPU?

This is a key benefit of using smaller chips, but it’s not the only benefit. Chiplets also allow much greater flexibility in product creation. Using a traditional chip design approach, AMD would need to design and manufacture multiple iterations of a graphics chip to power the entire product line. In the Ryzen RX 6000 series, for example, AMD created four chips: Navi 21, Navi 22, Navi 23, and Navi 24.

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT

Select GPUs will have the full chip enabled, while other GPUs will have a partially disabled chip to create slightly lower-end products. The Radeon RX 6900 XT, for example, has 5,120 stream processors, while the Radeon RX 6800 XT has 4,608 stream processors, although both contain a Navi 21 chip. This again, however, wastes a certain amount of resources.

Using several smaller chips can be cheaper in this regard. If, for example, AMD makes RDNA 3 chips with, say, 1024 stream processors each, the company could use five of these chips together to build a graphics card with a similar number of stream processors as the Radeon RX 6900 XT. At the same time, you could create a cheap graphics card using just one of these chipsets. Not only does this waste fewer resources, but it also speeds up production, since you need to create a single chip and package it in multiple configurations, instead of creating multiple chips.

However, nothing in life is free, and there is a performance penalty associated with using chiplets. The individual parts of the chip can communicate with each other faster in a single-chip design than in a chiplet design. Therefore, it becomes a balancing act of weighing the pros and cons of each solution. Large, monolithic chips have been a favorite in both the CPU and GPU worlds for decades.

Chiplets weren’t really widely used until AMD released its first generation of Ryzen processors, and given how well that has done, it seems clear that AMD believes it can benefit its graphics card business as well.

What we know now about RDNA 3

In short: not a whole batch. We’ll have to wait and see how this release pans out. At this time, we have very few details about RDNA 3 or the upcoming Radeon RX 7000 series of graphics cards, other than breadcrumbs that were presented at today’s event, which reinforce statements made at an AMD investor conference on last summer. That said, today’s announcement from Dr. Su, by the way, suggests that a new generation of Radeon isn’t too far off. In fact, the cards are working.

At the end of his Ryzen 7000 presentation today in Austin, Texas, Dr. Su showed off a rendered image of an RDNA 3-based GPU, followed by a demo of the card in action. You can watch a replay of the announcement broadcast here, and for the good things about RDNA 3, fast-forward to around the 31-minute mark…

In the demo, the card was running NeoWiz’s groundbreaking game Lies of P at 4K and Ultra settings, at what appeared to be a buttery-smooth level of performance. The processor it was paired with was the recently announced and not yet released 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X. We were also told (consistent with original claims from the investor conference) that the Radeon RX 7000 series will have cards with 50% more performance per watt than its predecessors, which is pretty impressive…assuming it works.

AMD Radeon RDNA 3

Listen closely, and Dr. Su mentions in passing at around 32 minutes, “I can’t wait to tell you more about this when we release it later this year.” So: There’s no set date yet, but we shouldn’t expect Ryzen 7000 to be AMD’s last big word in the consumer PC component market this year. The next generation of Radeon seems to still be on the way for 2022. Stay tuned.

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