AMD’s Southern Islands tapes out

Birds bring news of new GPUs


AMD logoSpring is here and the birds are flying north from their winter hiding spots, and they bring with them news from the Southern Islands. With the migration CIrcle complete, the words from the birds is that the new AMD (NYSE: AMD ) GPU family taped out a while ago.

The SI tapeout happened in in February, more likely earlier than later, so lets call it 6 weeks ago. For those doing the math, both of the last two generations, Evergreen and Northern Islands, taped out later in the calendar year, and the resultant chips were launched in late Q3 or early Q4.

The SI/7xxx cards are a tweaked, more effiCIent, and polished Cayman/69xx design, so they should be pretty low risk, and the spins will be minimal. If all goes really well, think 6 weeks from mid-February, or about now, for silicon to come back from the fab, then 2 weeks for testing, and 3 months for production wafers to start popping up. That would put delivery of cards to users in late July with time to spare, add 6 weeks for a possible, even likely respin, and late August is the outer bound. Since this is a pretty low risk part, we don’t expect there to be many huge difficulties with the design.

That is not to say there isn’t a huge problem lurking, and that problem is TSMC’s 28nm HKMG process. The first Southern Islands parts will be done at TSMC, with some of the later ones moving to Global Foundries if all goes well there. From what we understand, GloFo is quite a bit ahead of delivering products even if the roadmaps are neck and neck. Given TSMC’s track record at 40nm, 32nm, and shuffling of 28nm from gate first to gate last late in the game, most observers don’t think the promised timelines will be adhered to.

Edit: Had gate first and gate last swapped. Sorry.

So where does that leave AMD and Southern Islands? In limbo really, the company will the semiconductor equivalent of all dressed up and no where to go. They will have the designs done, masks made, test chips tested, and likely no volume process to run them on. Release for both this chip and likely Nvidia’s Kepler will be dictated by when the fab can deliver production capaCIty 28nm wafers, not the design itself.

When will you see Southern Islands parts? Short story, some time between July 2011 and the following July 2012, depending on when TSMC delivers. The offiCIal word is still, well, nothing yet, but when there is, delve into the details before you queue up for the impending launch. Props to CIpher.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 available through Guidepoint and Mosaic. FullyAccurate