Monday, November 29, 2010

AMD pulls an NVIDIA

A few years ago, renaming products was commonplace in the graphics world. Then, AMD sort of stopped doing it, and NVIDIA started doing it a lot more. The latter therefore gained a reputation for being something of a serial-renamer.

But last year, AMD surprised everyone by introducing new HD 5000 products that were in fact renamed HD 4000s, such as the Mobility Radeon HD 5145, 5165, or the oddly-named HD 530v/540v/550v/560v. AMD argued that OEMs demanded new names for existing 55nm DX10.1 designs. People complained for a day or two, but then forgot about it. After all, those were only low-end mobile products, and the commercial designations indicated fairly clearly that they were inferior to proper DX11 designs such as the HD 5600, for instance. Nevertheless, that was regrettable.

Then, a bit over a month ago, AMD introduced the Radeon HD 6800s, which were slower than the HD 5800s. While that wasn't strictly speaking a renaming, it was still misleading and an unpleasant surprise.

And today, AMD has just released "new" products, namely the HD 6500M and HD 6300M. Now you might think that those are mobile derivatives of AMD's latest Northern Islands architecture, but they're not. The specifications for these two additions to AMD's lineup state that they feature the "UVD 2 dedicated video playback accelerator" which is a component of Evergreen, otherwise known as the HD 5000 series. Those parts are in fact renamed Evergreen products. More specifically, the HD 6500M bears striking resemblance to the Mobility HD 5770, and the HD 6300M reminds me a lot of the Mobility HD 5470. Let me take that opportunity to say that AMD's website is a pain to navigate.

Also note that the HD 6300M and 6500M have pretty loose specifications as far as clocks are concerned, or even memory type. In practice, the 6500M present in a laptop could be clocked at 500MHz with 900MHz DDR3, or at 650MHz with 900MHz GDDR5, with the same name!

This sort of thing creates a very confusing situation for consumers. When you can't trust the name of a SKU to reflect its generation, it's bad. When you can't even trust the name of a SKU to refer to one product with precise specifications, it's worse. The thing is, both AMD and NVIDIA do this because it works: it helps them sell more graphics cards. The press usually makes a couple of snide comments, but quickly moves on. Clearly, that's not enough to deter such behavior.

This is why I've decided to go on a little crusade of my own, in the hope that it will get AMD and NVIDIA to stop doing this. Obviously, there's no way I can succeed on my own, so I urge every member of the tech press to do the same: from now on, every single post about NVIDIA or AMD will be concluded with the following sentence, linking to this post.

Furthermore, I think that AMD and NVIDIA's renaming practices are dishonest and harmful to consumers, and that they need to stop. 

Hey, it worked for Cato the Elder.

UPDATE: Dave Baumann chimed in here, and made the following comment: These support hardware accellerated MVC (Blu-Ray 3D) playback where Mobility Radeon HD 5000 didn't. And across the board HDMI 1.4a support.

I apperciate that, but I still don't think that the HD 6000 name is justified.

UPDATE 2: More information from Dave here: UVD2 has to be driven in a different way in order to get MVC decode and this requires a VBIOS update (or an SBIOS update in the cases of most notebooks) and additionally requires qualification by us and the vendor. HDMI 1.4a can be achieved by a driver upate (as it was on desktop Radeon HD 5000) but some notebook vendors still re-qual the software updates.

This pretty much confirms that we're dealing with the same chip. 


  1. As the Renaming does only hit low end i don't care the most people which buy this don't care about. And the others now what they buy, so they buy according to the benchmarks not according to the Model Nr. This rename is not as bad as the 4XXX/5xxx rename, because all the features of the 6000 serie are included. About he 6800 they split the highend in two and the lower part got the 68XX and the upper part the 69XX.

  2. Yes, compared to other instances of renaming, this is a mild case. But it's more of a matter of principle.