ATI’s Southern Islands tapes out

Game over for Nvidia

Nvidia worldATI IS ON A ROLL, having taped out its next generation GPU family called Southern Islands. ATI might call it the HD6xxx series, and it could be out before Nvidia gets its GTX4xx line of GPUs fully fleshed out and to market.

The news is straightforward enough. Southern Islands (SI) taped out recently, and is now moving through TSMC. Although the schedule is very tight, if all goes really well we could see a demo or two at Computex in just over a month. This puts SI slightly behind where Evergreen was a year ago, but not by much.

Southern Islands is said to be a hybrid between the all new Northern Islands (NI) and the current HD5xxx Evergreen family. Those in the loop say that Northern Islands was meant to be on TSMC 32nm before that process was killed. Due to the ever-slipping nature of TSMC’s 28nm high-K metal gate node, the SI hybrid GPU was slapped together to be fabbed on TSMC’s current 40nm process.

Sources tell SemiAccurate that SI uses some of the NI uncore (unshader?), and wraps that around a mildly updated Evergreen shader. RAM is more of an open question. NI was set to use GDDR5+, but since DRAM makers might not be ready, we may end up with only GDDR5 on SI.

In any case, Nvidia has come out fighting with its GTX470 and GTX480, shipping hundreds, some say thousands, of units since ATI shipped Evergreen last September. If all goes well, and it appears to be doing just that, ATI might have Southern Islands on sale before Nvidia gets all of the GTX4xx variants out the door. The end of 2010 will see Nvidia fighting a new ATI line with a year late part that doesn’t work within the promised specs, and can’t be manufactured.

By the time Nvidia gets to 28nm next year, or possibly in ‘GTX480’ quantities this year, it is going to be fighting yet another new generation of ATI parts, Northern Islands. If the rumors are true, and the upcoming Fermi II is on TSMC’s 28nm bulk process, and NI comes out on GloFo’s 28nm high-K metal gate process, Nvidia won’t even be in the game.

At this point, you really have to ask yourself if Nvidia will survive. Its chipset business is gone because it didn’t understand Moore’s law. Its GPU business is like a floating goldfish circling the drain. Its GPU compute business is wounded. And Tegra is being laughed out the door. Meanwhile, ATI is on a roll.S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate