The AMD Radeon VII Review: An Unexpected Shot At The High-Endby Nate Oh on February 7, 2019 9:00 AM EST
FP64 Performance and Separating Radeon VII from Radeon Instinct MI50
One of the interesting and amusing consequences of the Radeon VII launch is that for the first time in quite a while, AMD has needed to seriously think about how they’re going to differentiate their consumer products from their workstation/server products. While AMD has continued to offer workstation and server hardware via the Radeon Pro and Radeon Instinct series, the Vega 20 GPU is AMD’s first real server-grade GPU in far too long. So, while those products were largely differentiated by the software features added to their underlying consumer-grade GPUs, Radeon VII brings some new features that aren’t strictly necessary for consumers.
It may sound like a trivial matter – clearly AMD should just leave everything enabled – but as the company is trying to push into the higher margin server business, prosumer products like the Radeon VII are in fact a tricky proposition. AMD needs to lock away enough of the server functionality of the Vega 20 GPU that they aren’t selling the equivalent of a Radeon Instinct MI50 for a fraction of the price. On the other hand, it’s in their interest to expose some of these features in order to make the Radeon VII a valuable card in its own right (one that can justify a $699 price tag), and to give developers a taste of what AMD’s server hardware can do.
Case in point is the matter of FP64 performance. As we noted in our look at the Vega 20 GPU, Vega 20’s FP64 performance is very fast: it’s one-half the FP32 rate, or 6.9 TFLOPS. This is one of the premium features of Vega 20, and since Radeon VII was first announced back at CES, the company has been struggling a bit to decide how much of that performance to actually make available to the Radeon VII. At the time of its announcement, we were told that the Radeon VII would have unrestricted (1/2) FP64 performance, only to later be told that it would be 1/8. Now, with the actual launch of the card upon us, AMD has made their decision: they’ve split it down the middle and are doing a 1/4 rate.
Looking to clear things up, AMD put out a statement:
The end result is that while the Radeon VII won’t be as fast as the MI60/MI50 when it comes to FP64 compute, AMD is going to offer the next best thing, just one step down from those cards.
At 3.5 TLFLOPS of theoretical FP64 performance, the Radeon VII is in a league of its own for the price. There simply aren’t any other current-generation cards priced below $2000 that even attempt to address the matter. All of NVIDIA’s GeForce cards and all of AMD’s other Radeon cards straight-up lack the necessary hardware for fast FP64. The next closest competitor to the Radeon VII in this regard is NVIDIA’s Titan V, at more than 4x the price.
It’s admittedly a bit of a niche market, especially when so much of the broader industry focus is on AI and neural network performance. But there’s none the less going to be some very happy data scientists out there, especially among academics.
|AMD Server Accelerator Specification Comparison|
|Radeon VII||Radeon Instinct
|Memory Clock||2.0Gbps HBM2||2.0Gbps HBM2||1.89Gbps HBM2||5Gbps GDDR5|
|Memory Bus Width||4096-bit||4096-bit||2048-bit||512-bit|
|Half Precision||27.6 TFLOPS||26.8 TFLOPS||24.6 TFLOPS||5.2 TFLOPS|
|Single Precision||13.8 TFLOPS||13.4 TFLOPS||12.3 TFLOPS||5.2 TFLOPS|
|Double Precision||3.5 TFLOPS
|DL Performance||?||53.6 TFLOPS||12.3 TFLOPS||5.2 TFLOPS|
|ECC||No||Yes (full-chip)||Yes (DRAM)||Yes (DRAM)|
|Bus Interface||PCIe Gen 3||PCIe Gen 4||PCIe Gen 3||PCIe Gen 3|
|GPU||Vega 20||Vega 20||Vega 10||Hawaii|
|Manufacturing Process||TSMC 7nm||TSMC 7nm||GloFo 14nm||TSMC 28nm|
|Launch Price (MSRP)||$699||-||-||$3999|
Speaking of AI, it should be noted that machine learning performance is another area where AMD is throttling the card. Unfortunately, more details aren’t available at this time. But given the unique needs of the ML market, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that INT8/INT4 performance is held back a bit on the Radeon VII. Or for that matter certain FP16 dot products.
Also on the chopping block is full-chip ECC support. Thanks to the innate functionality of HBM2, all Vega cards already have free ECC for their DRAM. However Vega 20 takes this one step further with ECC protection for its internal caches, and this is something that the Radeon VII doesn’t get access to.
Finally, Radeon VII also cuts back a bit on Vega 20’s off-chip I/O features. Though AMD hasn’t made a big deal of it up to now, Vega 20 is actually their first PCI-Express 4.0-capable GPU, and this functionality is enabled on the Radeon Instinct cards. However for Radeon VII, this isn’t being enabled, and the card is being limited to PCIe 3.0 speeds (so future Zen 2 buyers won’t quite have a PCIe 4.0 card to pair with their new CPU). Similarly, the external Infinity Fabric links for multi-GPU support have been disabled, so the Radeon VII will only be a solo act.
On the whole, there’s nothing very surprising about AMD’s choices here, especially given Radeon VII’s target market and target price. But these are notable exclusions that are going to matter to certain users. And if not to drive those users towards a Radeon Instinct, then they’re sure to drive those users towards the inevitable Vega 20-powered Radeon Pro.