AMD Introduces New Polaris Graphics Architecture

New GPUs based on Polaris will be available in mid-2016, will be based on the 14nm FinFET process and will offer gains in performance-per-watt.

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Officials with Advanced Micro Devices see graphics technology as a key player in the company's ambitious road map that will help it gain more traction in such growth areas as gaming and immersive computing, including virtual reality.

The company made several significant moves with its graphics efforts in 2015, and executives started 2016 off by unveiling its new GPU architecture at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 4. The Polaris architecture represents the fourth generation of AMD's Graphics Core Next initiative and embraces the FinFET transistor design that is enabling the chip maker to make the leap from its current 28-nanometer graphics offerings to 14nm, which will help in performance and power savings.

Company officials expect the technology to be applicable to a wide range of use cases, from laptop games to multimedia applications to virtual reality (VR) that can run on small form-factor system designs.

"It brings much higher performance at much lower power, which is always a really, really sweet thing for gamers, for workstations, for VR and all these incredible use cases," Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect for AMD's Radeon Technologies Group (RTG), said in a video on the company's YouTube site.

According to the company, the new FinFET PC GPU architecture will help more than double the performance-per-watt of previous Radeon graphics technologies. The FinFET manufacturing process—similar to Intel's 3D Tri-Gate technology—enables more transistors to fit in the same amount of space. In addition, the Polaris architecture also includes support for a range of other capabilities that will help AMD compete with Nvidia in the GPU space, including HDMI 2.0a, DisplayPort 1.3, and 4k h.265 video encoding and decoding.

It's sampling with system OEMs now and will be available in mid-2016, according to the chip maker.

In the AMD video, Joe Cox, corporate vice president and director of ASIC/layout design, said the new architecture offers a significant leap in performance-per-watt for Radeon, which is key to the company making a strong move in new growth areas.

"If the goal is to be in a market with a compelling new product that has compelling new power [and] performance, I would expect nothing less," Cox said.

AMD executives, including President and CEO Lisa Su, in May 2015 rolled out a new road map for the company to financial analysts that included areas that AMD was going to target as it pushes to return to sustainable technology, and the company's graphics technology is a key part of that effort. It touches on a wide range of areas, from gaming and computing to virtual and augmented reality and in the data center as accelerators for servers.

In an interview last month, Su told eWEEK that "graphics is very strategic to us. The combination of graphics and CPUs gives us very strong technologies" that can be applied to multiple markets.

The chip maker last year made several moves in the graphics space, including rolling out its Fury GPUs in June. They were the first chips to include AMD's new High-Bandwidth Memory (HBM) technology, which essentially stacks memory chips for greater performance, power efficiency and density. In addition, AMD in September launched RTG. Two months later, the company rolled out Radeon Software Crimson, a collection of software that the company has been building for more than two decades and which replaced what had been known as AMD Catalyst Control Center. The Crimson offerings compete with Nvidia's GeForce Experience software collection.

Also in November, AMD introduced the Boltzmann Initiative, a project designed to make it easier to develop high-performance computing applications for the chip maker's FirePro graphics technology.

The introduction of the new Polaris architecture also is part of AMD's larger push to improve the energy efficiency of its mobile chips 25-fold by 2020.