A giant question mark looms over AMD's graphics lab, and specifically what lies ahead after Vega. We know that Navi is coming, sure. What we don't know, however, is whether it will only compete in the midrange sector as rumored, or if it will muscle into Nvidia's territory at the high-end. AMD boss Dr. Lisa Su may have answered that question.
In a phone interview with Barron's that started out talking about the trade war between the US and China, the topic shifted to AMD's confidence in its product roadmap. Short and to the point, Dr. Su said AMD will be "competitive in high-end graphics."
"We're making high-performing quality products and building a solid long-term foundation," Su added.
She told Barron's that investors can sometimes be nearsighted in focusing on short-term quarterly results. To her point, AMD's Zen microarchitecture is a long-term play. However, unlike AMD's graphics, Zen CPUs (in the form of Ryzen, Threadripper, and Epyc) are not just midrange solutions, they compete at the top of the market as well.
This is where the question mark about graphics comes into play. AMD brought in Raja Koduri to lead its Radeon Technologies Group, and he spearheaded the development of Vega. Unfortunately, neither the Radeon RX Vega 64 nor Radeon RX Vega 56 disrupted the graphics market.
Koduri has since left AMD and is now leading Intel's effort to get into discrete graphics solutions. In the short term, there are rumors of another Polaris refresh in the form of a Radeon RX 590. That will be another midrange part.
Navi will be AMD's first opportunity to compete with the likes of Nvidia RTX series, if that's the direction the graphics team is headed. It's too early to tell, obviously, but Navi could (in theory) come out of the gates with dedicated ray tracing hardware of AMD's own, and performance that finally rivals Nvidia's higher-end graphics cards. Or it could be another Vega situation. We'll just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, check out our article on which is truly better, Nvidia or AMD.