New Radeon GPUs were barely seen at CES, but they cast a long shadow

Begun, the GPU wars have

Credit: AMD

Gamers hoping to hear more from AMD’s Radeon division at CES 2021 wound up disappointed on Tuesday, as CEO Lisa Su’s keynote barely touched on graphics hardware. But there was some info tucked into the avalanche of Ryzen 5000 Mobile announcements: Su said that mainstream graphics chips based the company’s new RDNA 2 graphics architecture will land sometime in the first half of the year.

That might give enthusiasts pause. First half? Not first quarter? Didn’t the Radeon RX 6800-series and flagship 6900 XT just launch at the end of the year? Indeed they did, and they’ve been barely available ever since. Stocks instantly disappear, and prices on custom models rise through the roof.

The same holds true with stock of Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 30-series GPUs, of course, but Nvidia builds its chips using Samsung’s foundries. AMD builds the Radeon RX 6000-series on TSMC’s in-demand 7nm node—and those same 7nm AMD wafers are needed for AMD’s Ryzen 5000 desktop chips, the new Ryzen 5000 mobile chips, and both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. All of those sell as quickly as they can get made.

Promising mainstream RDNA 2 graphics sometime in the first half gives AMD some wiggle room to alleviate its crushing supply-chain headaches. It’s arguably pointless, and perhaps even damaging from a PR standpoint, to launch more GPUs that consumers will struggle to buy in today’s market anyhow. By committing to the “first half,” AMD gives itself a nice, wide window—but Radeon offerings could still trickle out on the earlier end of that range.

amd radeon rdna 2 ces dirt AMD

The screen behind Su showed the design of the incoming mainstream Radeon RX 6000-series offerings, which you can see at the top of this page. One model sports dual fans and looks identical to the already-released RX 6800 and 6900 reference cards, but the other comes in a much shorter single-fan design. That’s probably earmarked for a much more affordable GPU like a (theoretical) Radeon RX 6500, which wouldn’t need as much power, and would thus require less cooling, than beefier options.

Su also briefly showed an unnamed mobile RDNA 2 chip running Dirt 5 at Ultra High settings at 1440p with good frame rates.

AMD’s Radeon RX 6000-series cast a long shadow despite its CES (almost) no-show. Nvidia struck first in the mobile and mainstream markets, revealing the $330 GeForce RTX 3060 and new RTX 30-series laptop chips. The desktop RTX 3060 offers 12GB of GDDR6 memory compared to the mere 8GB offered in the pricier RTX 3060 Ti and RTX 3070. That's very likely a direct response to AMD’s decision to load up the existing Radeon RX 6000-series graphics cards with ample VRAM. Nvidia also announced that RTX 30-series GPUs will support PCIe Resizable BAR going forward, following down the path AMD forged with its innovative Smart Access Memory technology.

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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