AMD releases fastest DirectX 11 graphics for mobile solutions

AMD continues to blaze ahead by bringing their RV870 graphics chipset to the mobile realm. Announced today is the new Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series – DirectX 11 for notebooks has officially arrived!
Update 1:Please see the end of this article for an update on Eyefinity.

Today AMD is announcing the release of their latest mobile graphics chipset – the ATI Mobility Radeon 5000 series. This announcement comes as an inevitable follow-up to the desktop counterpart released this past year to rave reviews from the industry. (Read our coverage of the AMD Radeon HD 5870 for more information).

The quick success of the ATI Radeon HD 5000 series in the desktop market must have AMD feeling pretty confident these days. Why shouldn’t they? They beat their main competitor to the market with a DirectX 11 capable chip. They lowered power consumption while increasing performance. They added the new Eyefinity multi-display technology to all their cards. The list goes on and on.

Given the reasons to love the RV870 chipset on the desktop, how does all of this translate for the mobile sibling? Let’s take a look at the Mobility Radeon HD 5000 being announced today.

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Product Lineup

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There will be four new products available:
  • HD 5800 for gaming applications
  • HD 5700 and HD 5600 for performance products
  • HD 4560 and HD 5450 for mainstream notebooks
  • HD 5430 for thin and light form factors

Combined, the latest Mobility Radeon will be hitting all major market segments right from the start which should make vendors very happy.

Here is how each product breaks down:

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Feature Highlights:

Smaller GPU die: All products feature 40nm process technology which means the chips run cooler, smaller, and consume less power.

Improved performance: The HD 5800 nearly doubles the performance of the HD 5700 thanks to having double the Stream Processors. It will be interesting to see how this translates into real world applications.

Increased memory bandwidth: All will come in GDDR5, GDDR3, and DDR3 variations – so if memory bandwidth is a concern for you, be attentive to vendor’s specs. DDR2 will be available on the Radeon HD 5400.

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Eyefinity: Mobility Radeon 5600 to 5800 will support up to 6 displays in Eyefinity (like their desktop parts), and HD 5400 up to 4 monitors. Eyefinity is perhaps one of the more exciting features of AMD’s latest graphics architecture – you can now play games spanning more than one display.

AMD Eyefinity Review – PC Perspective from Ryan Shrout on Vimeo.

While Eyefinity is amazing desktop technology, I’m a bit cautious on its application in the mobile realm. You can expect issues if you’re using a laptop’s native display and an attached monitor with different resolution and physical size. The best experience will be to use three video outputs with matched displays, but it remains to be seen how many vendors will enable this for customers.

CrossFire: Although not explicitly mentioned in these slides, Crossfire will be supported at least in the high-end 5800 series. The following slide shows the 5800 performance in single GPU and CrossFire configurations in popular games. With the new product line, AMD is bringing along most of the features that made the desktop series so popular.

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Tesellation: Tessellation allows developers to create additional geometry data with very little performance hit using dedicated hardware for the functionality. The upcoming Aliens vs. Predator is using Tessellation, and the already released DiRT 2 uses it to render more realistic crowds and water effects without a performance hit.

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Improved Power Profile: 40nm, (clock gating, Vari-Bright, Fast switchable graphics) – not standard, requires vendors to implement.

ATI Stream: For improved computation performance and reduced power consumption in software that implements this feature (like Roxio Creator 2010, and Cyberlink PowerDirector 7+). Supports open compute standards like OpenCL and DirectCompute 11. Companies like Adobe have already been supporting AMD’s GPUs in Premiere and Photoshop to improve performance, and you can expect more companies to come on board as the technology matures.

Adobe FlashPlayer 10.1 optimization: reduced CPU usage, improved picture quality. Includes UVD2 supported cards (HD4000 series and up).  Given the ubiquity of Flash videos on the internet, this kind of optimization is very welcome.

Game Performance

Now let’s get a taste of what AMD’s latest will offer the consumer in terms of Game performance.

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Comparing HD5870 to HD4870, the 5870 appears to gain a 17% to 25% improvement in performance. It’s not clear what frame rates were being achieved , so we will have to wait to do our own testing to find out.

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Comparing the HD 5650 to HD4650 shows an average 20% improvement in the HD5650’s favour.

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Now, what’s a product release without a little competitor bashing? Here the HD5870 and HD5650 show an increase of about 25% over its nearest NVIDIA competitor. I’ve been testing a GTX280M and found it extremely fast and capable for games 1920×1200 and higher. So if the above slide is true, then the HD 5870 is definitely a gaming GPU worth investigating for mobile gaming.

Impressions and Conclusions

Be Wary of Eyefinity

While Eyefinity on the desktop is a compelling use case, there are some technical and physical limitations on notebooks that make us lukewarm to the whole idea. Eyefinity using a laptop’s display as one of the monitors is going to be a problematic scenario because a laptop’s display is typically smaller in both resolution and physical size to a desktop LCD panel. This will make gaming very strange with a mis-matched patchwork of displays – I would not recommend using Eyefinity in this way.

Eyefinity is best used in odd number external display configurations (3 or 5) because it keeps one display immediately in front of the user (with even number of displays you’ll have LCD bezels down the middle of your view). So given you need at least 3 video outputs to do Eyefinity right, how do are vendors going to fit that onto a notebook already lacking in real estate? The best of the worst case scenario is that vendors use an external dongle to connect additional displays, but I suspect most manufacturers will not push Eyefinity as a selling feature instead relying on DX11, better performance (power and processing), and video acceleration as the main driver for sales.

If Eyefinity is something you will want in a mobile computer, pay close attention to the vendor’s specifications and how they implement it.

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While product announcements are great at whetting our appetite, it pales in comparison to getting a real physical product in your hands. Luckily notebooks using AMD’s latest Mobility Radeon HD 5000 series graphics should be available soon. The Asus G73Jh (see this article for our preview of this notebook) is the only system announced so far using the Mobility Radeon HD 5870, and you can bet many more will be announced today.

The feature set of the Mobility Radeon 5000 series will deliver to you nearly all the great benefits of the desktop version, but be cautious of Eyefinity as it can be messy if products do not execute it properly. Eyefinity certainly is amazing for desktops with 3 or more displays, sadly the translation to the mobile space seems a bit lost. Perhaps a vendor out there will surprise us with a decent implementation, but don’t hold your breath.

We are eagerly waiting for a test unit to run this mobile GPU through our battery of tests. If it follows the pattern set by the HD 5870 on the desktop, then you’ll have the fastest performing mobile graphics solution on the market (we’ll just have to confirm that!). Combine this with great features like DirectX 11, video acceleration of HD and Flash content, and overall better power consumption, you have yourself a formidable graphics solution regardless of your application.

Update 1 (January 7, 2010):

Some of the concerns of Eyefinity on a mobile PC were laid to rest at CES 2010 (January 7, 2010) when AMD showcased an Acer Ferrari netbook running Eyefinity using an XGP, or External Graphics Platform (see here for more details). The XGP featured a AMD Mobility Radeon HD 5870 GPU, connected to the notebook via a cable, and the XGP providing three Display Ports, 1 DVI, and 1 HDMI output for proper Eyefinity gaming. The XGP requires its own power supply. (Please visit BSN for the article covering the XGP).

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Credit: Theo Valich, BSN.

While this is definitely a good implementation of Eyefinity, I’m still not satisfied (just call me cranky):
  1. The XGP is cumbersome – not something a mobile user will carry around often. Perhaps more portable units will be released, but still requires carrying extra bulk.
  2. The XGP was featured on a high-end / boutique product which could also imply a high-end / boutique price tag?
  3. The Mobility Radeon HD 5870 was not integrated with the laptop, thus we have yet to see Eyefinity on a notebook with and integrated HD 5870.
If you have seen a good example of Eyefinity on a mobile system, please let me know.

Thanks to Randal for sending me the tip. Thanks to BSN for the coverage.