R520Sunday, Aug 30, 2015 · 500 words · approx 2 mins to read
Almost a full decade ago, ATI was still ATI, although it wouldn’t be for long. Less than a year later, AMD announced that they were purchasing ATI, subsuming it into the combined entity we stare at in wonderment today, wondering how they’re still in business.
I was talking to ATI at the time about a new GPU they were just about to launch. Called R520, it went on to power a range of graphics add-in boards with the Radeon X1800 moniker. I reviewed it for Hexus, and there was a lot to talk about. A new shader core, the first GPU to try 90nm low-k manufacture at TSMC, big, power hungry, H.264 support in the video engine, weird ring-bus architecture….ATI took a lot of risks with R520 and at the time it mostly paid off.
Looking back at what I wrote, I realise the technical press at the time were coming to the end of giving flagship GPUs a pass on noisy coolers and prodigious heat output, in exchange for performance. The landscape has since changed fundamentally, and graphics cards now have to be almost silent and generally much less than 200W under load.
Anyway, the reason I post about a random GPU from the distant past is that I actually have one as just the chip package, not mounted on any PCB.
Folks who worked on R520 could get them like that, and someone at ATI, Matthew Witheiler (who used to be at Anandtech in its early days!), got one for me because he knew I loved (and still do, although much less frequently) to collect 3D hardware and related paraphernalia. He actually signed the bottom edge of the package on the sample, but because I’ve always kept it on my desk since rather than bag it and store it well, his Sharpied signature hasn’t stood the test of time. Sorry, Matt!
It’s one of my most cherished pieces of memorabilia from my time in the 3D graphics industry and it’s been in front of me on my desk for the last decade. Initially it was to remind me how modern semiconductors are amazing things and it’s a wonder anything as complex as a GPU even works. Now that I know how GPUs are really built and manufactured, it now serves as a very real reminder that my amazement and wonder were incredibly understated.
Pretty cool anyway and worth a short blog post to show it off after all of this time.