In a move that was perhaps the most important announcement of Siggraph, Radeon Technologies Group presented the Radeon Pro SSG card, perhaps the most innovative concept to have come out of the GPU world of in quite some time.
SSG stands for “Solid State Graphics”, and in its prototype version consists out of a Polaris 10 graphics processor, commonly known as Radeon RX 480 with 8GB of memory, a PLX PCIe bridge and two M.2 NVMe slots with two 512GB SSD drives, which might come to market on their own, probably branded as Radeon R9 memory.
The way how Radeon Pro SSG works is quite ingenious. When AMD decided to reshape its mainstream GPU codenamed as “Ellesmere” into a “Polaris 10”, part of that effort was to bring more than 16 PCIe lanes inside the GPU. Polaris 10 has as much PCIe lanes as Intel mainstream processors – from Haswell, Broadwell of yesterday to today’s Skylake and tomorrow’s Kabylake. In our conversation with John Swinimer and his colleague, we learned that the initial prototype card is just the beginning. The GPU attaches to the on-board PCIe bridge just like Radeon Pro Duo does. However, the data does not go down to the motherboard but rather stays on the discrete board, ‘talking’ to the NVMe controller which features two M.2 slots.
The application developers will have to do some work in order to get their applications properly working with the Radeon Pro SSG but the awards are there. To have one terabyte of memory running at 4.5 GB/s read and 3.1 GB/s write is nothing short of amazing, given that 8-16GB of GDDR5 memory deliver additional 256 GB/s of bandwidth – without introducing the additional latency caused by leaving the graphics board. Radeon Pro SSG enables capture, editing and broadcast of 8K 120Hz video, or dual a 4K120 video stream with lossless compression.
Given that top theoretical bandwidth per M.2 slot is 4GB/s read and 4GB/s write, it isn’t hard to imagine “maxed out” SSG with 16GB of GDDR5 memory and 4TB of M.2 Storage (we’re looking at you, Seagate Nytro XM1440). For those needing ultimate performance, a combination of two 1TB Samsung 961 M.2 SSD could potentially deliver as much as 6.4 GB/s read and 3.8 GB/s write for 2TB of capacity. Physical limit of the current configuration is probably 8GB/s read and 8GB/s write.
The amount of new markets that are opening to AMD span beyond conventional reach of graphics cards. Broadcast production is “under siege” with the conversion to 4K60, high-res 360-degree video as well as demands coming out of Hollywood. AMD recently opened an office not far away from Hollywood’s Avenue of the Stars, in the very heart of content production capital of the world. Feedback the company is receiving is invaluable. However, feedback is nothing without stepping into the unknown and releasing products which might deem risky – but there’s no risk without an award.
We are truly intrigued what will be the final shape and form of Radeon Pro SSG as it could create a whole new product line with multiple memory combinations. The company hasn’t decided in what form the finalized products could come, but we might see the GPU attached to 16 of GDDR5 memory and 1-2 TB solid state memory. We would invite RTG engineers to check out the Seagate drives, though. 4TB would be beyond belief, and a good trial run of this technology for AMD’s Vega and Navi graphics processors.
Both Nvidia and AMD have been scrambling to answer the matured Intel Xeon Phi design, which is scoring numerous design wins with its architecture and memory addressing. Given that Xeon Phi is coming to workstation market in the spring of 2017, the two-way battle is getting some company. With AMD killing off the “FirePro” brand, the conversion from AMD/ATI into Radeon Technologies group with “Radeon” and “Radeon Pro” line-up is all but complete.
Radeon SSG stands for something we’ve been advocating for over a decade, ever since AMD acquired ATI Technologies. We expected a fusion of brilliant engineers from ATI to supercharge AMD’s IP portfolio and utilize Hyper Transport to make hybrid CPU/GPUs brilliant. A lot of water has passed under a bridge, but it is great to see a GPU finally moving pass the 32GB barrier (which only shipped in lowly k-quantities as FirePro W9100 32GB).