"AMD may be headed back to the well with Polaris, this time launching the new GPU on a 12nm version of GlobalFoundries 14nm process node. There’s been rumor of this coming, though there have also been questions about whether AMD would attempt a 12nm refresh given the reality of Nvidia’s Turing launch.
According to Phoronix, a new PCI ID, 0x6FDF, has been added to Linux. It’s not mentioned in any database of Radeon drivers or GPU models anywhere . It’s listed as being part of the Polaris 10 family — in Linux, Polaris 20 GPUs (RX 500 series) are part of the Polaris 10 family as well, which increases the chance that this is a 12nm die shrink. What might we expect from such a part?
We only have one data point for comparison for this shift: the transition from Ryzen 7 1800X on 14nm to Ryzen 7 2700X on GlobalFoundries 12nm (optimized 14nm). In this case, non-gaming benchmarks are actually a better comparison point than gaming tests, since they highlight CPU performance in areas where the GPU isn’t a bottleneck and we want some perspective on what the practical improvements of moving from 14nm to 12nm were for AMD. Our slideshow from the Ryzen 7 2700X review is embedded below if you care to refer back to it.
The Ryzen 7 2700X is ~11 percent faster than the Ryzen 7 1800X in the majority of tests, though some isolated benchmarks may show larger results. To look at how much this would matter, we’ve also included our slideshow from the original RX 580 launch. Our comparison point is the Nvidia GTX 1060.
A straightforward 10 percent clock increase would put AMD’s RX 580 ahead of the GTX 1060 in every test we ran at launch. Power would still be a significant advantage for Nvidia unless AMD managed to rearchitect the chip along with the die shrink, but AMD would have a stronger position to challenge Team Green in the midrange.
Holes in Turing’s Product Line
The idea that AMD would pull a refresh like this seemed unlikely back when Nvidia was thought to be launching a top-to-bottom stack refresh. But today, that doesn’t look to be the case. The performance hit from enabling features like RTX is so heavy, it’s not clear if Nvidia can even launch the feature below the RTX 2070, which means Turing may effectively be a refreshed GPU family with a lot of Pascal cards hanging on. Nothing is stopping NV from eventually launching new “2060” cards that are basically rebadged 1060s, and both AMD and Nvidia have gone down this road before.
But Nvidia may not want to take that step this time around. The question for the company is whether it makes more sense to position the new RTX family as entirely devoted to ray tracing and DLSS with the old Pascal numbering system reserved for non-RTX cards or if bringing these other GPUs forward into the Turing product line and labeling them with the new naming convention would confuse buyers. I’m inclined to think it would; buyers are unlikely to grasp the distinction between an “RTX 2070” and a hypothetical “GTX 2060” if Nvidia tries to make the “G” alone the distinguishing factor for whether new features are available. Regardless of whether or not Nvidia keeps Pascal in market or attempts to re-brand older cards as part of the Turing family, AMD may have an opportunity to better position itself in the mid-market.
Of course, all of this is supposition, based on some PCI ID codes for a product family, not actual hardware. But if AMD can snag a win across the midrange for a die-shrunk version of its Polaris family, the company may well go for it. Improving its competitive midrange position is a good way for AMD to win back market share, even if it isn’t competing with the RTX family.