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AMD's Vega GPUs will start shipping in the first half of 2017

AMD's Vega GPUs will start shipping in the first half of 2017

The new Vega GPUs will initially target high-end desktops

AMD has been tight-lipped about its upcoming GPUs code-named Vega, but here's a new, key detail: They will start rolling out in the first half of 2017.

The first Vega GPUs will be aimed at high-end enthusiast PCs, Mark Papermaster, chief technology officer at AMD, said during a chat Tuesday at the Deutsche Bank 2016 Technology Conference in Las Vegas.

Some earlier estimates put the release of Vega GPUs at late this year. AMD's roadmap listed it for release next year, though the timeframe wasn't clear.

Vega GPUs will provide significant performance and power efficiency improvements compared to AMD's Polaris, Papermaster said. The GPU is aimed at gaming, virtual reality, and other desktop applications that require high-performance GPUs.

Vega GPUs could slot nicely into high-end desktops with AMD's Zen chip, which will become widely available in PCs next year. AMD hopes to regain its lost glory in PCs and servers with Zen, which is a new CPU design that stresses performance. The initial Zen chip for gaming PCs will have eight cores.

AMD is also mulling a mega-chip for servers and high-performance computers that combines a Zen CPU chip with a GPU. CEO Lisa Su hinted that chip -- which could be released next year -- could have a Vega GPU.

Vega will have next-generation HBM2 (High-Bandwidth Memory), which is stacked memory that can provide throughput of up to 256GBps (gigabytes per second), depending on the configuration.

AMD earlier this year launched GPUs based on the Polaris architecture, including the US$199.99 Radeon RX 480 GPU, which brings VR on the cheap to desktops. AMD will continue to focus Polaris on budget PCs.

The chipmaker is locked in a GPU battle with Nvidia. Nvidia GPUs like the GeForce GTX 1080 are based on the Pascal architecture and will compete with AMD's Vega GPUs.

AMD's discrete GPU market share was 34.2 percent in the second quarter of 2016, growing from 26.9 percent in the same quarter a year ago. Nvidia's market share was 65.8 percent in the second quarter this year, dropping from 73.1 percent, according to Mercury Research.

Nvidia lost market share by de-emphasizing the sale of GPUs in large volumes through mainstream PC makers, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. That void is being filled by AMD, which has helped the company gained unit market share.

PC shipments are falling, and Nvidia didn't see large profit margins. AMD is also filling a void in the low-end PC gaming market, while Nvidia focuses on selling high-margin GPUs through retailers and enthusiast PC makers. Gaming PC makers like Alienware and Falcon Northwest prefer Nvidia products for high-end PCs.

While AMD is gaining market share, Nvidia is generating more profits from GPU sales, McCarron said.

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