Lake Tahoe, NV – AMD invited a select group of technical journalists up to the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa located on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. There we were introduced to the “Spider” Platform: AMD’s codename for their new gaming/enthusiast platform. Intended to be an HD “Swiss Army Knife”, AMD’s latest offering offers us some great DX 10.1 gaming, HD features, and ultra-low power consumption all in one box.
In a room filled with sample machines, a group of 20 plus technical journalists were released to prod/fondle/try out and otherwise test AMD’s new gaming/enthusiast platform codenamed Spider. Taking a page from Intel, AMD has decided to present their new wares grouped together (think Centrino). Nicknamed “the HD Gaming Supercomputer” by Pat Moorhead (VP, AMD Worldwide Marketing) the Spider Platform consists of the following:
- A Phenom processor
- A 790 chipset motherboard
- An HD3800 series video card
Ok, that list seems simple enough. However, the Phenom can be a dual, triple, or quad core and with a 790FX chipset (as opposed to the more pedestrian 790X chipset), you can run up to 4 HD3850/HD3870 video cards for quad – Crossfire! Dubbed CrossfireX, the system promises to provide best-in-class gaming performance at a price-point that is very hard to beat.
This was not pie-in-the-sky, looks cool on Powerpoint, marketing claptrap. We saw actual running examples of everything talked about.
The systems we all got to play with were quad-core 2.6GHz Phenoms with 2Gb of RAM and dual-Crossfire HD3850 video cards and Vista 32-bit loaded on. The dual Crossfire configuration was due to the Catalyst drivers still not having entered beta. (AMD informed me that Catalyst 7.12 with quad-Crossfire support will be released in beta on 12/5/2007.) Various standard benchmarks (3DMark06, Sysmark, PCMark) and several app benchmarks (Nero Recode, Winzip, and other to name a few) were preloaded on the systems. Since PlanetX64 does all of its benchmarking in the 64-bit environment, it was all pretty useless to me. (We will be receiving a Spider platform system for testing very shortly.)
One of the more amazing demos was performed by Raja Koduri (CTO, AMD Graphics GPG). He demonstrated the graphical power of the new HD3800 series in two ways: a small game that involved moving 6000 ping pong balls from one room to another using a hair-dryer (sounds very Kim Possible to me) and a GPU-based HD encoding demo. This is actually much cooler than it sounds, trust me.
The ping pong ball demo showed 6000 of the little white spheres pouring into futuristic looking chamber, and you, the player, are there in first-person POV. Whipping out your trusty souped-up hair dryer, you proceed to blow the cretinous little balls through a semi-permeable forcefield into another chamber where lies the goal. This is harder than it sounds as you only have 90 seconds to complete the task and the ping pong balls are all physics enabled thanks to CrossfireX. Also present is global illumination, a DirectX 10.1 feature which adds to the mood lighting. I can see a lot of horror games using this in very short order. Getting the balls to move the way you want is about as easy as herding cats, expect hours of mindless fun from this demo which will be available for free from AMD’s website very shortly. Heck, we all suggested that they bundle it into the Catalyst package since it won’t make it much larger that it already is and woud give the user community instant ackowledgement that the drivers are working correctly.
The second demo was more amazing than the first. Raja proceeded over to another demo machine that had the latest release of Adobe Premier Elements, the home version of Adobe Premier Pro (their video editing suite). Aimed at the home market, Premier Elements is about preparing video for encoding on to DVD. Even the HD stuff. Raja proceeded to encode a 1 minute HD clip to SD using the Adobe encoder (CPU bound). The process took 1 minute which, of course, is real time. Not too shabby for Phenom. He then loaded an encoder written by his guys and never shown outside of the labs. He then took the same minute of video and encoded it for HD (Blu-Ray). Using the AMD encoder (GPU bound) the process took 20 seconds! Yep, 3x faster than real time. The encoder for Premier Elements will be available for free from AMD in the near future. I spoke to Raja afterwards and he says that they are also working on a new version of the GPU client for [email protected] to provide even higher levels of folding performance than the current GPU client.
We also got a demo of Spider vs. PS3. AMD believes that the lower power requirements of Spider will allow the creation of HTPC systems that double as HD gaming centers as well. I believe they have accomplished this.
The picture on the left shows the two contenders: PS3 and a Spider based HTPC. The middle shot shows Call of Duty for PS3 running on the big screen. The shot on the right shows Call of Duty 4 running on the Spider HTPC. Very impressive visually and the system was silent for all intents and purposes.