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The Story Behind The Radeon HD 4850/4870

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AMD/ATI’s Radeon HD 4850 and 4870 are the video cards to pick up if you’re looking to build a new gaming rig. An excellent balance of price and performance really shook up the video card landscape and it was no accident. This was a planned attack which began in 2005.

AnandTech has the back story which involved gutsy moves, new ways of thinking and patience. I was surprised to find out that AMD/ATI decided to not only use both a new manufacturing process and a new architecture which focused on price/performance, but they also decided to use GDDR5 memory when it wasn’t even properly speced yet.

When the options were either make the chip too big or make the performance too low, ATI looked elsewhere: let’s use a new memory technology. Again, put yourself in ATI’s shoes, the time was 2005 and ATI had just decided to completely throw away the past few years of how-to-win-the-GPU-race and on top of that, even if the strategy were to succeed it would depend on a memory technology that hadn’t even been prototyped yet.

The spec wasn’t finalized for GDDR5 at the time, there were no test devices, no interface design, nothing. Just an idea that at some point, there would be memory that could offer twice the bandwidth per pin of GDDR3, which would give ATI the bandwidth of a 512-bit bus, but with a physical 256-bit bus. It’s exactly what ATI needed, so it’s exactly what ATI decided to go with.

What a gamble.

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