After a 10 month journey, the Capsaicin board is (finally) among us. The birth of Radeon Pro Duo was a long one, and we detailed the journey from a product that was supposed to come to market as an R9 Fury X2 to one that AMD launched at the Capsaicin event on the first day of Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, CA. In a way, this is one of first product launches created by the Radeon Technologies Group. Following up on the excellent Wraith heatsink, Radeon Pro Duo shows AMD / RTG will leave no stone unturned to revamp their product line-up and offer more to their customers.
With that decision, AMD / RTG also made some internal decisions, such as changing the way of working with the media and analyst community. We will leave you to judge is this good or bad for the consumer, but the decision to sample ‘friends of individuals in the company’ is bound to raise a lot of sparks especially given that the documents may or may contain contradicting information to the one previously given to the analysts, investors and media.
Thus, if you are looking for Radeon Pro Duo product reviews – you won’t be seeing any unless a website decides to drop $1499 + tax. AMD decided not to sample any tech media with the review samples, and as such, we decided to review AMD’s own press deck, which is being covered in the article below. Furthermore, you can read the pre-reviews on independent sites such as Guru3D, HardOCP and TechPowerUp.
Radeon Pro Duo Launch Deck
Weighing in at compact 3.23 MB, the “Radeon Pro Duo briefing deck.pdf” is compact enough to be easily shared on smartphones and anonymous email services, which resulted in leaking the presentation to the usual suspects, such as Videocardz, Fudzilla and the like(s). Presentation brings 21 pages of good designed content, and offers a good insight into the thinking process that RTG deployed in order to bring the Radeon Pro Duo to market. In a way, RTG’s design template is much easier on the eyes than the ‘pitch black’ template AMD used on Capsaicin deck, showing a good path of design evolution for the company. We would have to go on record and state that one of the best powerpoint templates comes from RTG’s own Polaris Graphics Architecture PDF.
Radeon Pro Duo Press Images
Coming in at 577.5 MB, “Radeon Pro Duo Pictures.zip” contains 91 print and web quality images which show Radeon Pro Duo in its full glory. Pictures include the complete system from Maingear, artistic shots of the card and a set of logos.
What is Radeon Pro Duo?
With the review of press materials done and dusted, we can now bring you the most interesting slides from the presentation, including the internal benchmark results which may prove controversial when compared against independent testing.
If we focus on a product instead of corporate politics, Radeon Pro Duo is of the best tuned products that came to the market. According to AMD, Radeon Pro Duo replaces AMD R9 Radeon 295 X2 as the world’s fastest graphics card, built for DirectX 12 and VR. Given that Nvidia did not release a dual Kepler or dual Maxwell graphics cards for gamers (no, you can’t game on Tesla K80), that claim probably was true… until this date.
AMD claims Radeon Pro Duo is 30% faster than a two year old Radeon R9 295X2, and 50% faster than a single Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X. We’ve seen the card live and touched it, and we can agree with AMD on the premium feel of the product. There are no more elements that might produce ‘coil whine’, which was present on limited number of Radeon R9 Fury cards. When we look at the card itself, we can see the small tweaks AMD brought forward in order to improve the mechanical design:
The radiator is the same used on R9 Fury X, equipped with a 120mm fan. With cooling capacity of 500W, it goes well and beyond 350W TDP. The board can take 525 Watts of power, and cool down 500 Watts of it. Here are all the official specs for the card:
Regardless of what camp are you on, neither 16nm Nvidia Pascal GPU, nor the 14nm AMD Vega 10 (see you both in 2017) can beat the specifications of a single Radeon Pro Duo card. Both Pixel and Texture fill-rates are off-the-charts and with some luck to overclock the HBM memory, the bandwidth can theoretically reach as high as 1.22 TB/s. AMD cites GPU clock going as high as 1 GHz, but we saw a 1.075 MHz clock on the only Radeon Pro Duo card we managed to spend mere 10 minutes with.
If we disregard the potent 175 Watt overclocking headroom, the performance offered at stock clocks is something to behold. Purchasing this card will buy you ‘futureproofness’ for at least two years, which is similar to experience offered to the owners of Radeon R9 295X2 – years of playing games and editing with higher performance than a next-generation single GPU.
Building a Bridge Between Radeon and FirePro
Here are the most interesting slides from the presentation, including the internal benchmark results which may prove controversial when compared against independent testing:
As our original article stated, the reason for the name Radeon Pro Duo came from Raja Koduri, Senior VP and Chief Architect, Radeon Technologies Group. AMD made deliberately went to the drawing board with the hardware changes to the original dual GPU design. The company was not forced to do those changes, as the original Gemini board worked perfectly in games. AMD beefed up the design in order to be able to deliver high performance in professional applications. Given the price difference between Radeon (Consumer) and FirePro (Commercial), Radeon Pro Duo just might be the first real ‘prosumer’ graphics card – rising above consumer to meet the commercial demands.
Radeon Pro Duo comes with both Game Ready and certified FirePro drivers, as there won’t be a workstation graphics card. One of key reasons for this differentiation (you can find this board in a server form as FirePro S9300 x2) are the power consumption limitations per slot, which are a staple of every workstation design. AMD goes way above 225W and offers astounding performance when compared to FirePro Wxxxx cards in all the applications for which Radeon Pro Duo is certified.
If the actual Capsaicin board is the heart and mind, then LiquidVR is the soul of Radeon Pro Duo. LiquidVR API came into focus as AMD was developing its low-level API called Mantle. When Microsoft reversed on its decision not to develop DirectX 12 (without Mantle, Windows 10 would ship with DirectX 11.XO, a mix of DX11 and Xbox One APIs), AMD decided to split the Mantle into two. Baseline API was spun off to The Khronos Group, while the company kept on working on the low-level API for Virtual Reality, named LiquidVR. LiquidVR goes beyond the graphics API, to push the pixel onto the display, in whatever shape or form the display is.
Virtual Reality required GPU designers to shift their opinion of hunt for the most frames per second, not caring about an occasional frame drop. VR changed that paradigm and required to shift into a minimum of 90 frames per second, refresh rate required by HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. Thus, AMD was vindicated in their decision to design their chips with Asynchronous Shaders, which are now used for better performance on one side (Ashes of The Singularity), and enable GPU-accelerated head tracking. By driving each eye with a dedicated GPU, Radeon Pro Duo targets those creators that will launch their own VR experiences in 2017, 2018 and onward. By that time, a single GPU should offer equal or better performance than a Radeon Pro Duo.
Besides LiquidVR, AMD is now pushing for a wide spread adoption of in-house path tracing engine called FireRender:
“AMD FireRender technology is a state of the art, physically-based rendering engine enabling interactive workflows for the production of photorealistic images on heterogeneous computing systems. Based on the industry standard OpenCL™ 1.2 API, FireRender can harness compute capabilities from multiple resources in a heterogeneous environment. The FireRender engine is a full-fledged unbiased path tracing renderer and also includes a native physically-based material system.”
Over the past couple of months, AMD’s been one of key drivers of Crytek’s focus on VR with their VR First initiative, but also CRYENGINE V and soon-to-be-launched Film Engine. With FireRender plug-in for Autodesk 3Ds Max and Crytek Film Engine, content creators can create immersive experiences using impressive material library. Good example is Sky Harbor cinematic, a part of upcoming Virtual Reality benchmark from Basemark:
This is just the first experience created in a collaboration between Basemark and Cryek. Given that the video was created using open standards, the performance differentiation between AMD, Imagination, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and others should be solely down to hardware it runs on.
Benchmarks, Benchmarks, Benchmarks
No launch is complete without benchmarks, which are typically delivered in blue, red or green bars (depending on the vendor). Sadly, this launch is different and there are no way to independently verify the information. In order to test the Radeon Pro Duo against (AMD selected) competitors, AMD used three different configurations for different slides:
We start off with Slide 9, which contained professional application testing using Autodesk’s 3ds Max, in a single frame render test. AMD did not provide the public version of the image used for testing, but the results show significant performance boost between CPU and GPU approach.
Even though a lot of AMD claims 73% efficiency for the second GPU, which is in line with the expected ‘two thirds’ improvement over a single Fiji GPU. The processor used was Intel Core i7-5960X, the best Intel can offer. That ‘best CPU’ took 228 seconds to render the reference scene, while Radeon Pro Duo took mere 15 seconds.
AMD selected a good mix of games, including titles backed by either AMD or Nvidia, as well as non backed independent titles. While there is no information about the exact levels were offered, the first slide in this section offers a look into every setting the company representatives used to compare the three boards here. Given the sheer power of dual Fiji setup, it is unsurprising to see Radeon Pro Duo coming into the lead. Still, the lead is not as high as one might expect for a product that replaces a two year old graphics card.
Probably the word’s first native DirectX 12 title, Ashes of the Singularity (AOTS) clearly shows that for 4K gaming with all the bells and whistles, not a single 2016 card can deliver 60 frames per second. Radeon Pro Duo comes close with 53 fps, while a dual GeForce GTX Titan X configuration can’t pass 43 fps. This is not as surprising as AOTS takes full advantage of Asynchronous Shading, which AMD built inside the Hawaii GPU architecture, making it DirectX 12 ready.
For the last performance result, we leave you with the SteamVR Benchmark. Several weeks ago, AMD contacted us and delivered this screenshot:
Fast forward to Radeon Pro Duo launch deck, and we see AMD citing the following numbers:
As you can see, the selected graphics cards changed, and GeForce GTX Titan X is gone, just as R9 295X. The reason for that might be that these cards ‘crank it up to 11’ with ease. Furthermore, even according to AMD, GeForce GTX 980 Ti achieves 11, which is why the 10.3 score doesn’t make a lot of sense. In our own testing, rating of 11 was achieved by GeForce GTX 980 Ti, Quadro M6000, R9 390X CrossFire etc.
In a way, we believe that you should not use Fidelity score for benchmark results, but rather the frames rendered, where AMD shows its true performance advantage. Again, without an independent testing of Radeon Pro Duo, it is impossible to see just how good (or bad) a product can fare in real-world scenarios.
AMD is changing its charted course, and the change is leading to a path of profitability. With Radeon Technologies Group bringing innovations to market, and AMD making sure they can sell and license the in-house technology, the future is bright. However, we’re quite disappointed that ‘change’ is burning bridges, resulting in unnecessary friction – when the independent reviews will come from the same sites that got burned. Calling in favors will end up in tugs of war, but that’s how the new AMD likes to play.
Radeon Pro Duo is a product that epitomes the change inside the company. AMD could have launched the original Gemini board, sell it as Radeon R9 Fury X2 for $999 or $1199 and make $12-15 million easy on a 10,000 unit run. If that run would be sold, another run would be ordered, and another etc… and AMD would turn a good profit. But… RTG is now managed by people such as Raja Koduri and Roy Taylor and quite honestly, status quo is no longer an option. It is refreshing to see a company scrapping what was a perfectly good gaming product and start mixing the product line in order to create an ultimate piece of machinery. Radeon Pro Duo is the world’s first prosumer card, a product hitting the sweet spot for both gamers and professionals.
The board is now readily available for $1499 plus sales tax. Lucky buyers will get a third Fiji chip to be used as a souvenir. Which brings us to a question – if you could buy a Fiji die souvenir like a keychain, how much would you pay for it?