After months of speculation and waiting, Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD) finally took the wraps off of its new high-end graphics cards. The fastest of the bunch, the Fury X, is priced at $649, meant to compete directly with NVIDIA's (NASDAQ:NVDA) identically priced GTX 980 Ti. With new high-bandwidth memory and a water-cooling solution, the Fury X is certainly an impressive piece of hardware. But while AMD has successfully closed the performance gap with NVIDIA at the high end, it failed to launch anything truly disruptive.
A look at the Fury X
AMD actually announced two lines of new graphics cards in June. The Radeon 300 series encompasses rebrands of the company's previous Radeon 200 series, while three high-end cards, the Nano, the Fury, and the Fury X, are built on a new iteration of AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture. These high-end cards come with high-bandwidth memory, or HBM, and the Fury X sports 8.6 teraflops of single-precision floating point performance.
AMD has built a very fast graphics card with state-of-the-art memory technology, and its water-cooling solution allows the Fury X to be about 3 inches shorter than AMD's previous flagship, the 290X. After months of being unable to effectively compete with NVIDIA at the high end of the market, the Fury X officially puts AMD back in the game.
In terms of performance, the Fury X is very close to the GTX 980 Ti. In a review on Tom's Hardware, the reviewer said the Fury X delivers performance surreally similar to NVIDIA's 980 Ti, with the 980 Ti having a slight advantage at lower resolutions and the Fury X having a slight advantage at higher resolutions.
AMD's use of HBM doesn't seem to give the Fury X any discernible advantage. The fraction of gamers playing at 4K resolutions, where the Fury X is at its best against the 980 Ti, is still minuscule, according to Steam's hardware and software survey. 4K gaming will certainly become more prevalent as the price of 4K monitors comes down, but with NVIDIA expected to use HBM in its upcoming Pascal graphics cards in 2016, being first might not yield any benefits at all for AMD.
What it means for AMD
When AMD launched its previous lineup of graphics cards, the Radeon 200 series, in 2013, the company successfully disrupted NVIDIA. With the flagship 290X boasting better performance and a lower price than NVIDIA's high-end offerings, NVIDIA was forced to slash prices on its graphics cards in order to compete.
NVIDIA returned the favor when it launched its GTX 970 and 980 last September. NVIDIA priced its new high-end cards extremely aggressively, forcing AMD to slash prices. The GTX 970, which cost about $330 at launch, wasn't too far off from the performance of AMD's 290X, which was priced at $550 at the time. And the GTX 980 vastly outperformed every single AMD GPU graphics card available.
This trend of NVIDIA and AMD constantly leapfrogging each other comes to an end with the launch of the Fury X. Instead of disrupting NVIDIA, AMD has simply matched its rival, offering the same performance for the same price. While NVIDIA had the high end of the market largely to itself since September, AMD will not enjoy the same advantage.
AMD will almost certainly win back some market share at the high end, the result of simply having a viable alternative to NVIDIA's products. Over the past few quarters, NVIDIA has vastly increased its market share of the discrete GPU market, and I suspect some of these gains will now be erased.
But without truly disruptive products from AMD, NVIDIA will likely remain the market leader for the foreseeable future. Instead of both companies leapfrogging each other with each new product launch, NVIDIA has taken a leap forward, and AMD has taken months to simply catch up.
This could be the inevitable result of AMD slashing its research and development budget over the past few years. NVIDIA actually surpassed AMD in R&D spending in 2013, despite AMD having a far broader business, competing in PC CPUs, server CPUs, and discrete graphics cards.
AMD's Fury X is an impressive graphics card, but it's not good enough. AMD needed to disrupt NVIDIA, but Fury X doesn't do that. While AMD will likely reclaim some market share, the company runs the risk of being permanently stuck in second place behind NVIDIA.