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CES 2017: AMD's new Vega graphics architecture goes far beyond gaming

We're months away from the launch of Vega-powered products, but AMD is pitching its new graphics architecture as a solution for more things than just better gaming.

For much of 2016, AMD has been telling press, pundits, and fans alike to "wait for Vega," even while Nvidia's Pascal offerings were hammering anything and everything with the AMD logo on it.

But Vega is now getting close.

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Today at CES 2017, AMD hung some more meat on Vega's bones, and it is clear that the new graphics architecture is designed to appeal to more than just gamers.

Here's what we know:

New possibilities

Vega goes well beyond gaming. According to Raja Koduri, senior vice president and chief architect, Radeon Technologies Group, AMD:

"It is incredible to see GPUs being used to solve gigabyte-scale data problems in gaming to exabyte-scale data problems in machine intelligence. We designed the Vega architecture to build on this ability, with the flexibility to address the extraordinary breadth of problems GPUs will be solving not only today but also five years from now. Our high-bandwidth cache is a pivotal disruption that has the potential to impact the whole GPU market."

There are some exciting times ahead for AMD.

The world's most advanced GPU memory architecture

This represents an entirely new memory hierarchy for Vega GPUs featuring a new high-bandwidth cache and a controller. The cache makes use of performance HBM2 (High Bandwidth Memory 2) technology which allows double pin transfer rates up to 2 GT/s (gigatransfers per second), and as much as 8 gigabytes of RAM per package.

Another advantage of HBM2 is that it halves the amount of physical space needed on a board compared to an equivalent amount of GDDR5 memory.

Vega architecture is optimized for streaming very large datasets and can work with a variety of memory types with up to 512 terabytes of virtual address space.

Next-generation geometry pipeline

Vega's next-generation geometry pipeline not only brings higher levels of efficiencies for processing complex geometry, but at the same time allows for more than 200 percent of the throughput-per-clock compared to previous Radeon architectures.

Vega also brings with it better load-balancing with an intelligent workload distributor to deliver consistent performance.

Next-generation compute engine

Vega's next-generation compute engine can natively process 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, or 64-bit operations in each clock cycle, and these compute units are optimized for significantly higher frequencies than previous generations and their support of variable datatypes makes the architecture highly versatile across workloads.

Advanced pixel engine

The new Vega pixel engine employs a Draw Stream Binning Rasterizer, designed to improve performance and power efficiency, which allows for "fetch once, shade once" of pixels through the use of a smart on-chip bin cache and what AMD describes as "early culling of pixels invisible in a final scene."

Vega's pixel engine is now a client of the onboard L2 cache, which offers sizeable reduction in overhead for graphics workloads that make use of heavy read-after-write operations.

Availability

GPU chips and graphics cards based on the Vega architecture are expected to ship in the first half of 2017.

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