AMD Announces Radeon HD 8970M High-End Mobile GPU

AMD is announcing its Radeon HD 8970M today. We say "announcing" instead of launching because this chip is essentially a rebadged HD 7970. It wasn't initially clear if this would be the case -- the HD 7790, which the company launched back in March, is based on a new design has a few small feature changes that have led it to be unofficially labeled a Graphics Core Next (GCN) 1.1 part rather than GCN 1.0.

Unfortunately, there's no sign that the Radeon HD 8970M contains new silicon. To be fair to AMD (and Nvidia), however, these yearly rebadges aren't just the GPU designers' idea. OEMs like having new numbers to slap on a system every year, as it gives them a marketing opportunity to claim a product is faster without actually delivering a new piece of silicon. That's not to say that AMD and Nvidia don't benefit from the practice, but the truth is, semiconductor manufacturing no longer moves quickly enough for either GPU company to deliver a truly new design every 12 months. This is particularly true in mobile, where parts have to hit stringent heat and power requirements that require additional testing.

What this means, in essence, is that the really important AMD mobile refresh actually launched months ago. The Radeon HD 8700 family was a 28nm update to the 40nm chips that powered the HD 7600 - 7700 family. This change fixes a marketing hitch in AMD's roadmap. Without an HD 8970M GPU, customers who wanted the top-end AMD part had to pick the seemingly lower-end HD 7970M, as opposed to an HD 8800M chip.

AMD claims that the Radeon HD 8970M is significantly faster than the GTX 680M in a variety of tests, but high-end laptops that use AMD hardware are harder to find these days -- I can't corroborate the claim first hand because we don't appear to have reviewed a system that uses a Radeon HD 7970M.

Rebadges aren't particularly sexy -- an episode of your favorite TV show is never as good the second time around. If there's a consolation prize, it's that we suspect the other announcements coming out of AMD in the next few months -- including Temash/Kabini, the PS4, and the Xbox Infinity -- will be a great deal sexier.

AMD is, for now, a company with severely limited resources, and we're not surprised that the company pushed out the next generation of GPU and mobile parts to make room for the work it needed to do on other hardware. The HD 8970M appears strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the HD 680M for the next few months, and that's the most important thing for AMD's long-term competitive positioning.