There’s a ton of history and graphics tech to unpack here. When AMD bought ATI, it not only absorbed the company, it maintained its reputation as a graphics powerhouse for years to come. Looking back, you can see how AMD prepared for this kind of success, although for many years it did not look so optimistic.
Enthusiasts have seen some impressive products from their favorite chipmakers, and AMD boasts high-performance CPUs and GPUs these days. With a wide range of products in history to showcase from the ATI and AMD lineup of graphics, there are a few that boosted the industry, impressed critics, and brought financial success to the company.
ATI VGA Wonder
The VGA Wonder series helped put ATI on the map in the late 1980s. The VGA Wonder was an add-in card for the IBM PC in the late 1980s, with up to 512 kb of video memory. It allowed screen resolutions of 1024×768 and featured automatic mode switching. Follow-up models like Wonder 16 and VGA Edge helped spread the ATI name and eventually the VGA Wonder series merged and later replaced the Mach series of 2D accelerators. Graphics cards of this era even included an input port for a mouse.
ATI Rage 128
Image Credit: Trio3D
The 3D Rage was announced as the company’s first 3D accelerator, hoping to increase its high-quality 2D performance with more features. However, it failed in the Z buffer, which means that it did not perform as a strong competitor to rivals like the Nvidia NV1. UPS.
Fortunately, it was followed by Rage II and finally Rage 128. The Rage 128 helped bring ATI into the mainstream, bringing performance on par with the Nvidia RIVA TNT and Voodoo 2. The Rage 128 could do this by offering higher performance. in high-quality 32-bit color mode. Some rivals didn’t even offer this mode!
The high-performance enthusiast follow-up to the Rage 128 was the Rage Fury MAXX, which featured dual GPUs on a single board, a design that ATI (and AMD) would lean on in the future. Expectations for the 64MB Fury MAXX were through the roof. Unfortunately, the card’s price and operating system support limited its success.
ATI Radeon DDR
While ATI never managed to rule the benchmarks, its offerings were average performing with attractive prices. The Radeon DDR with its fastest memory, released in August 2000, shows how committed ATI was to the gaming graphics card market.
With 64 MB of memory and a large number of transistors, the Radeon DDR implemented new features such as environmental impact mapping, in addition to new DirectX 8 support. Thanks to its 32-bit color performance and support for input and output of video, the Radeon DDR was an important milestone in ATI history.
ATI Radeon 9700
By 2002, ATI had built a decent reputation for offering feature-rich graphics cards, even if they didn’t always offer the fastest 3D rendering. Things changed when ATI acquired ArtX, the people who designed the graphics chips on the Nintendo 64 and Nintendo GameCube. As a result, the third-generation Radeon was a monster in almost every way.
It was the first card to support DirectX 9, including shader, vertex and pixel 2.0 models. Additionally, its flip-chip GPU package allowed the card to run cooler and at higher clock speeds. It outperformed the high-end Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti 4600 in 3D performance, even when enabling demanding features like anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing. This generation of graphics cards was not only popular with deep pockets enthusiasts, as some mid-range Radeon 9500 models could be modified to 9700 with a few tweaks, increasing the value of ATI products. This chip had legs and achieved high frame rates in games for several years.
Enter the console graphics: Flipper and Hollywood
It is important to mention Flipper, the graphics technology behind Nintendo GameCube. Designed by ArtX, which was later acquired by ATI, the Flipper featured some smart features that kept it efficient and profitable. While the GameCube was cheaper and smaller than other consoles on the market, it featured similar graphics quality and even some impressive effects, including paint in Super Mario Sunshine and water in WaveRunner.
GameCube and Flipper are a short note compared to the Nintendo Wii and its Hollywood GPU, which was also designed by ATI at the time of its acquisition by AMD. While the technology was only 50 percent faster than Flipper on the GameCube, the commercial success of the Wii was a huge victory for AMD, as it resulted in massive sales year after year.
With more than 100 million Wiis sold, AMD and ATI were not only in the PC market, but also in consoles, opening up a whole new segment for the company. AMD graphics technology made its way to the (equally successful) Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X / S, and PlayStation 5.
AMD Fusion APU
After acquiring ATI, the next logical step was to combine their technology. Called Accelerated Processing Unit or APU, these chips could be successful in markets beyond the traditional PC gamer, such as low-power embedded solutions and mobile or HTPC chips and size-conscious consoles.
The first AMD APUs, marketed as Fusion, arrived in 2011 as the Brazos platform that could outperform Intel’s Atom CPUs and Nvidia’s Ion GPUs with a single chip. On the desktop side, the A8 series APU demonstrated that AMD could combine solid CPU performance with 3D rendering that could put Intel’s integrated graphics to shame. This meant that AMD could offer a single, complete solution for many markets.
ATI Radeon HD 4870
With the launch of the ATI Radeon HD 4850 and 4870, the company impressed gamers with products that could keep up with Nvidia’s flagship chips, but at lower prices. Even when Nvidia released its GTX 260 and GTX 280, Radeon cards seemed like the best options as they were more affordable, but still performed the same in the ballpark.
The HD 4870 was also one of the first cards to use GDDR5, surpassing Nvidia by more than a year. When ATI needed another boost in benchmarks, the HD 4870 X2 came along to put the screws on the competition.
ATI Radeon HD 5970
Perhaps ATI’s biggest achievement in the late 2000s was the Radeon HD 5970, a card that dominated everything before (and after its release thanks to some TSMC issues that slowed down Nvidia’s 40nm process). It included an incredible number of stream processors (3,200!), A 725 MHz core clock, and dual 1GB banks of GDDR5.
Did we mention it was a dual GPU design? Another important addition to this card was Eyefinity, ATI’s matrix display drivers that allowed for six simultaneous active displays. These cards were in high demand and many enthusiasts were disappointed in the limited supply.
AMD Radeon HD 7970
The first PCI-Express 3.0 card, not to mention the first product to use the Graphics Core Next (GCN) architecture, was the flagship Radeon HD 7970. The GCN bones meant the card was a robust general-purpose graphics processing unit ( GPGPU) and it might also work well when it came to gaming. A quick upgrade to the 7970 was the GHz Edition, which increased the clock frequency to 1,000 MHz and featured a boost function that raised the clock to 1,050 MHz, a feature we still see on AMD cards today.
The GCN architecture used in this card laid the foundation for several major products going forward, including the R9 290X, R9 Fury X, Polaris-based cards such as the RX 480, and the RX Vega series.
Features like variable refresh rate Freesync debuted on the third-generation GCN products, while the R9 Fury X and Vega models featured high-performance high-bandwidth memory, helping them appeal to professional users rather than only to the players.
AMD Radeon RX 5700
The Radeon RX 5700 featured GDDR6 and used a 7nm manufacturing process. These two aspects helped improve performance and prices. Best described as a mid-range product with fewer stream processors than previous Vega cards, the RDNA / Navi-based 5700 XT was able to keep up with the previous-generation flagship card (Radeon VII) in gaming at a more affordable price. .
The RX 5700 was followed by the RX 6800 and 6900 XT series, which helped get AMD back to the top of the gaming benchmark rankings. The technology behind these cards is also used in the latest generation of game consoles, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X, proving that AMD has what it takes to offer gamers no matter the platform.
35 years later: How many of these have you had?
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