11 Aug 2017

AMD's Radeon Pro SSG has the power for real-time 8K Featured

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Moving the storage directly onto the GPU eliminates bottlenecks Moving the storage directly onto the GPU eliminates bottlenecks AMD

Billed as the world’s first GPU to break the terabyte memory barrier, from price to performance AMD's Radeon Pro SSG is a beast in all senses of the word.

Indian Movie Director Ss Rajamouli, the man behind Baahubali 2, owns a RED Weapon camera. I know this because I was there in the Novo Theatre, Los Angeles when Jarred Land, President of RED Digital Cinema Camera Company handed the Weapon brain to Raja Koduri, Senior Vice President and Chief Architect, Radeon Technologies Group, who in turn presented it to Rajamouli.

The stated reason for Land giving the Weapon to Koduri is that AMD has just launched the Radeon Pro SSG which has 16GB of HMB2 memory and 2TBB of SSD storage mounted directly on the graphics card.

AMD refers to this storage as ‘2TB of SSG memory’, however my opinion is that moving SSDs a few inches from the motherboard to the graphics card does not transform its nature. Memory is memory and storage is storage.

Leaving that quibble to one side, AMD has mounted a PCI Express NVMe controller on the graphics card along with two 1TB M.2 NVMe drives. When a company such as Adobe uses the AMD SSG API, their Premiere video editor suddenly has access to a colossal amount of blazingly fast … let’s call it storage.

The reason for going down this route is 8K video. If you’re working with 8K video or rendering massive models it doesn’t help if you double or quadruple the amount of on-board memory so 32GB or 64GB simply isn’t sufficient. You need to step up by orders of magnitude, hence 2TB of SSD. We are told the SSDs are mounted directly to the graphics card PCB and are covered by the same heat sink that cools the GPU and memory, which sounds like a neat idea but also means the SSDs are not user-serviceable items.

AMD tells us that moving the SSDs onboard allows them to communicate directly with the GPU, which makes them twice as fast as conventional SSDs that are connected to the motherboard. This means AMD Radeon Pro SSG can handle 8K video in realtime where lesser graphics cards will crash and burn.

As we know, RED is pushing 8K just as hard as possible so anyone who helps in their efforts is to be applauded, hence Jarred Land gave the RED Weapon Brain to Raja Koduri “Because AMD gives a f**k.”

Koduri immediately handed the Weapon to Rajamouli as he had just arrived in Los Angeles for his very first visit to SIGGRAPH. Koduri sweetened the deal by adding $6,999 worth of Radeon Pro SSG to the bundle. My immediate thought was that Rajamouli was going to have a fun time with Indian Customs when he declared his gifts and that he was going to be spending a good deal of cash on the hardware you need to turn a RED brain into a functioning camera.

Radeon Pro SSG is an enhanced version of the new WX 9100 graphics card which is a professional version of the yet-to-be-launched Vega. WX 9100 replaces the W9100 that used the Hawaii GPU.

The current stack of Professional AMD GPUs is:
WX 2100 $149 baby Polaris
WX 3100 $199 baby Polaris
WX 4100 $399 Polaris
WX 5100 $499 Polaris
WX 7100 $799 Polaris

W9100 used the Hawaii chip and that model was never replaced by a high-end Fiji chip so WX 9100 comes storming in with its new Vega architecture. WX 9100 has a specification that matches RadeonVega64 except that it has 16GB of HBM2 ECC memory in place of the gaming card’s 8GB of HBM2.

AMD’s Polaris architecture used HBM and the new Vega chips use HBM2. However, the capacity of these new memory chips and the way they are employed is currently quite limiting so 16GB of HBM2 is as good as it gets. AMD is simply incapable of offering a WX 9100 with 32GB or 64GB of HBM2, so the big jump to onboard SSD makes perfect sense.

Incidentally the 2TB of SSD storage will appear as local storage in Windows 10 however software requires the AMD SSG API to take full advantage of the hardware. Adobe is the first company to use the API, so you really need to check your software supports AMD SSG before you spend $7000 on your new graphics card.


Leo Waldock


Leo Waldock has been writing about PC technology for some 20 years.

If he had a family motto it would be "You know, Windows really isn't as bad as you might think".

He has yet to own a Mac and believes that a Micro Four Thirds Panasonic is a decent camera, which just goes to show we never stop learning.

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