Updated 2/15/13 - AMD Next-Gen Graphics May Slip To End of 2013, Not Necessarily A Bad Thing
Starting with the HD 3000 family, which debuted in November 2007, each successive generation appeared 9-13 months later. The HD 4000 series debuted in June 2008, the HD 5000 products launched in September 2009, the HD 6000's in October 2010, and the HD 7000 family in January, 2011.
By that calendar, we should have seen a new HD 8000 GPU within the next few months. AMD recently refreshed its mobile product lines with HD 8000M hardware, replacing some old 40nm parts with new 28nm GPUs based on GCN. In desktop, it's a different story. AMD is already shipping "HD 8000" cards to OEMs, but these cards are HD 7000 cards with new model numbers. RAM, TDP, core counts, and architectural features are all identical to the HD 7000 lineup.
GPU rebadges are nothing new, but this is the first time in at least six years that AMD has rebadged the top end of a product line. Combine that with leaked slides like this one:
And Twitter remarks like this:
And it looks increasingly less likely that AMD will field a true second-generation Graphics Core Next processor before the end of 2013.
Why A GPU Delay Isn't (Necessarily) A Bad Thing
Obviously any delay in a cutthroat market against Nvidia is a non-optimal situation, but consider the problem from AMD's point of view. The company has been through multiple rounds of layoffs, its credit rating is one notch above Paris Hilton's reputation, and it's been fighting against both Intel and Nvidia across multiple markets.
We know AMD built the GPU inside Wii U. It's credibly rumored to have designed the CPU and GPU for the Xbox Durango and possibly both of those components for the PS4 as well. We know AMD is launching the 28nm successor to Brazos, codenamed Kabini, in the first half of this year, and that the chip's success is absolutely critical to the company's ability to survive as a going concern.
The Richland refresh of Trinity is due in late March, with its own set of improvements. Kaveri is rumored for a late-2013 introduction, and it'll be the first desktop APU with a GCN-derived APU. Each one of these projects represents a non-trivial allocation of resources. Despite this, AMD's recent "Never Settle" bundles and the company's rapid response to reports of high frame latencies are both examples of a strong commitment to GPU development in software that also helps boost the adoption of APU technology. It's possible that in the company has opted to focus on the technologies most vital to its survival over the next 12 months.
Because in the end, that's the question here. Fitch cut AMD's credit rating because it doesn't believe the company will weather the storm facing it in Q1 and Q2. Brave remarks aside, AMD is at a critical juncture. If the rumors are true, and the next-generation GCN processor slips to late this year, it may yet result in a better final product.
Update - February 15 (Marco Chiappetta):
We just finished up a conference call with a number of representatives from AMD and have some additional news to share related to this story.
On the call, AMD wanted to be clear that they have new graphics products in the pipeline and that we would be hearing about them soon. AMD also explicitly stated that they want to bring back the “GPU wars” with NVIDIA, that they do not lack resources or imagination, and that they feel they’ve got the best products at their given price points. The company’s efforts over the next few months will be focused on repositioning their current parts and clearly establishing them as the “best” options in their respective market segments. AMD plans to further improve upon existing products through software updates and by fostering relationships with content providers to further evolve game bundles, like the current Never Settle Reloaded bundle.
According to AMD, sales of Radeon HD 7000 series products are still ramping and it would not be prudent to announce or talk about next-gen products until demand for current solutions begins to wane. Some new products, however, will still be introduced into the channel in the not too distant future—they just won’t be high-end products. AMD’s Sea Islands GPUs, variants of which already power the recently announced Radeon HD 8000M series of mobile parts, will eventually find their way to new desktop products. Those products will not compete at the high-end, though. They will be mainstream, low-power products, most likely targeted at mid-range systems.
With that said, AMD did state that “before 2014” they will have (or at least reveal) a new top-to-bottom graphics line-up and that there will still be updates to the Radeon HD 7000 series during this year. We suspect we’ll know more about true, next-gen products in the November timeframe, when the AMD Fusion Developer Summit is scheduled to take place and that AMD may have more to say after NVIDIA shows its hand. Though, when talking about NVIDIA’s upcoming GeForce GTX Titan, AMD did say that they know about it, they are not afraid of it, and the will react accordingly when it arrives. I guess we’ll know what that means soon enough.