AMD has had the luxury of having virtually no competition in the graphics card market ever since it released its ATI Radeon HD 5800 series towards the end of September. Nvidia hasn't done an awful lot in response to the Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 - aside from struggle, of course - because its first Fermi-based graphics cards are still quite a long way from release.
Our latest information suggests that we might see something by way of a performance preview this side of Christmas, but don't expect any kind of product volume on retailers' shelves until well into the first quarter of next year.
Meanwhile, AMD has been busy executing its launch strategy - we've not only seen AMD release the Radeon HD 5870 and HD 5850 graphics cards, but the firm quickly followed with the more moderately priced Radeon HD 5770 and HD 5750 cards. Although we don't think the 5700-series represent great value at the moment, both of the Radeon HD 5800 series cards are.
Click to enlarge - this is almost as long as the Subway sandwich I'm going to have for lunch today, but probably not as tasty
AMD's problem, however, has been getting enough products out of the door, as both the Radeon HD 5870 and 5850 have been horrendously difficult to get hold of. It's hard to understand how AMD could underestimate demand in such a way, given that they're the first DirectX 11-based graphics cards - it looks like those problems with the Radeon HD 4770 availability are creeping back.
TSMC's 40nm process has had a lot of issues ever since its introduction and it meant that AMD couldn't make enough Radeon HD 4770s to satisfy the demand. The same appears to be true here, too, as AMD simply cannot make enough Cypress GPUs to satisfy current demand - we've heard board partners with back orders of Radeon HD 5800 cards in the several hundreds of thousands, which is quite frankly crazy.
Click to enlarge - the PCI bracket features two dual-link DVIs and a mini-DisplayPort connector
Today, AMD is executing the third part of its four-phase Radeon HD 5000 series launch today with the release of the Radeon HD 5970. The Radeon HD 5970 is codenamed Hemlock and is not a completely new GPU. Instead, it's a pair of Cypress GPUs connected together with a PCI Express 2.0 bridge chip to deliver enough performance to shatter every record in the book.
Given the above, we asked AMD to explain how it plans to keep up with demand for yet another Cypress-based card. The firm said that it made little sense to hold back - the card is ready and, because it's a flagship product, it's not going to have a huge impact on supply. At more than £500, we definitely agree with that sentiment, but it's still taking GPUs away from the products that will definitely sell (i.e. the HD 5870 and HD 5850).
What we can deduce is that AMD has taken some steps to improve yields - the first measure is the card's specs - the Radeon HD 5970 isn't just a pair of Radeon HD 5870s strapped to one PCB. Instead, the two GPUs are underclocked versions of the Radeon HD 5870 GPU and use less voltage too. The less aggresive speed-binning should help ATI keep yeilds, though this move will also help keep GPU temperatures inside the HD 5970 down.
The new naming scheme is an improvement on the X2 nomenclature, which felt like a step backwards on all the good work AMD had done by dropping the branding suffixes such as Pro, XT, XTX and OMG!!!111. It removes the final suffix in AMD's armoury and if it ends up releasing a cheaper dual-GPU part, customers won't be confused as they won't be wondering whether a 5870 is faster than a 5850 X2, for example.