Built For VR - AMD Launches The Radeon Pro Duo

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅26.04.2016 14:09:58

Today marks the official launch of the AMD Radeon Pro Duo, and with it the final stage in AMD's release strategy for their flagship 28nm Fiji GPU series. Fully 10 months following the first teaser images, and pushed back from 2015 availability to better coincide with the Virtual Reality's appearance on the main stage, it is now available to consumer from retailers for the low, low price of $1499 in the US. With that watershed pricing in mind, what makes the Radeon Pro Duo a compelling product?

Two Full-fat Fiji's On One Card

AMD's Fiji GPUs have already gone through three distinct product targeting subtly different markets; the Radeon Pro Duo aims to capture market share from yet another distinct segment.

The R9 Fury is the current non-reference king in AMD's lineup, with a full variation of air coolers from 3rd party vendors which keep a slightly slimmed down Fiji under control. In contrast the R9 Nano and R9 Fury X are only available with reference cooling - compact air and closed loop liquid cooling respectively - and cater to very compact ITX systems or small form factor PCs; both these designs feature full-fat Fiji GPUs. All three are high performance parts over and above the R9 300-series, priced to match.

The final Fiji iteration brings one major advancement over earlier models, that of incorporating two GPUs onto one high-performance card. Naturally AMD are no strangers to this process - not all that long ago they released the Hydra AKA Radeon R9 295x2 which sported two Hawaii GPUs one-board - yet the complexity, power and cooling requirements of Fiji (still built with the 28nm process) makes the process more difficult. Perhaps taking more time to ensure that all i's are dotted will stand AMD in good stead.

As a dual-GPU card the Pro Duo has amazingly high on-paper performance numbers, made possible by utilising two full-fat Fiji rather than slightly hobbled parts (which is often the case with dual-GPU models). Neither shader numbers nor memory bus is compromised on the Pro Duo, although GPU frequencies and reference specs indicate that the card is close to two R9 Nano's in Crossfire.

Power and Cooling

Officially the Radeon Pro Duo's TDP is 350W, fed through three 8-Pin PCI-E connectors and necessitating a very high quality PSU. Once again this is identical to two 175W R9 Nano cards in Crossfire, although unlike that configuration the Pro Duo will only ever require a single x16 PCI-E slot. Cooling however has been considerably augmented through the use of two custom Cooler Master AIO units feeding a single 120mm radiator, designed to ensure good temperatures no matter the workload.

It will be interesting to see if the Pro Duo's cooling is capable of keeping a 350W TDP card at adequate temperatures alone, or whether it will necessitate more advanced power management and potentially throttling during extended use at high load. AMD's Fiji architecture incorporated advanced sensors to allow greater levels of control (i.e. dynamic under- and over-clocking) under load which was used to great effect with the R9 Nano, and will almost certainly be key to the Pro Duo. It has been noted in the past that certain 120mm Closed Loop Liquid Coolers reach a performance threshold with heavily overclocked CPUs which, in theory at least, have a lower TDP than the Pro Duo.

Built with LiquidVR

Virtual Reality is the major talking point for this release, which is unsurprising given both the timing and greater than anticipated early adoption rate for VR Head Mounted Displays. AMD's secret sauce is LiquidVR, which its claimed is integral to the Radeon Pro Duo.

LiquidVR is a collection of AMD technologies which give developers greater control over GPU resources, lowers CPU overhead, and perhaps most importantly keeps latency as low as possible whilst maintaining high frame rates.

Designed for Creators

The AMD Radeon Pro Duo is the initial product in the new AMD VR Ready Creator Line, a set of hardware tools specifically designed for the development of VR-ready applications as well as leveraging high-performance computing. As a result it straddles the line between the consumer-grade Radeon brand and Enterprise/Workstation-class FirePro products.

Despite the card only being officially released today, LiquidVR technology is being used in the creation of the Assassin's Creed VR Experience and the Radeon Pro Duo is the platform of choice for Crytek's VR First initiative:

VR First is a new initiative designed to provide state-of-the-art facilities to anyone interested in exploring the power and potential of virtual reality development. The program encourages academic institutions around the world to establish dedicated VR labs on their campuses. Crytek is providing full source code access to CRYENGINE development software for free, while hardware partners will equip the labs with VR headsets and machines. VR First locations will become key centers for nurturing new talent in VR development and creating a global community equipped to embrace this exciting field of technology.

AMD are also touting the Duo Pro's performance with their FireRender rendering engine, offering impressive scaling benefits with 3DS Max when operating with two GPUs.

In keeping with the Pro Duo's rather split personality, for the first time AMD are offering a blend of Radeon and FirePro drivers for the new card. In theory this will provide creators with the best of both worlds - superior stability for development with FirePro settings, and Day 1 game support with Radeon Settings. That's in keeping with AMD's current accelerated development and release rate for new drivers which has shown a marked improvement in Day 1 game performance over the past 6 months.

Putting It All Together

It's almost certain that AMD have the worlds fastest graphics card on their hands with the Radeon Pro Duo, although whether they have the fastest GPU is up for debate. The card will eclipse the Titan X, Titan Z and R9 295X2, with the usual proviso that dual-GPU support in games is often not as good as it should be. The card's value to creators and developers will be up for a huge amount of debate and won't be settled today as it largely depends on the impact of LiquidVR on the market. For now at least AMD are doing what they can to present a valid alternative to the competition, and investing in partnerships which should see long-term benefits.

All that said, for the vast majority of consumers - even those with the deep pockets needed for an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive - $1499* is an enormous hurdle to overcome when two R9 Fury X's will are $200 cheaper. Currently it's not clear if the Radeon Pro Duo includes specific hardware advances that make the card better suited to operating two GPUs in tandem. Unless they have, and the end-user requires a single-slot PCI-E solution, AMD's own product lineup might offer superior alternatives.

* AMD were unable to provide us with UK and EU pricing upon this article's publication.

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