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<div><span style="font-size: small;">At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the biggest story in the GPU industry over the last year has been over what isn&rsquo;t as opposed to what is. What isn&rsquo;t happening is that after nearly 3 years of the leading edge manufacturing node for GPUs at TSMC being their 28nm process, it isn&rsquo;t being replaced any time soon. As of this fall TSMC has 20nm up and running, but only for SoC-class devices such as Qualcomm Snapdragons and Apple&rsquo;s A8. Consequently if you&rsquo;re making something big and powerful like a GPU, all signs point to an unprecedented 4th year of 28nm being the leading node.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">We start off with this tidbit because it&rsquo;s important to understand the manufacturing situation in order to frame everything that follows. In years past TSMC would produce a new node every 2 years, and farther back yet there would even be half-nodes in between those 2 years. This meant that every 1-2 years GPU manufacturers could take advantage of Moore&rsquo;s Law and pack in more hardware into a chip of the same size, rapidly increasing their performance. Given the embarrassingly parallel nature of graphics rendering, it&rsquo;s this cadence in manufacturing improvements that has driven so much of the advancement of GPUs for so long.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">With 28nm however that 2 year cadence has stalled, and this has driven GPU manufacturers into an interesting and really unprecedented corner. They can&rsquo;t merely rest on their laurels for the 4 years between 28nm and the next node &ndash; their continuing existence means having new products every cycle &ndash; so they instead must find new ways to develop new products. They must iterate on their designs and technology so that now more than ever it&rsquo;s their designs driving progress and not improvements in manufacturing technology.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">What this means is that for consumers and technology enthusiasts alike we are venturing into something of an uncharted territory. With no real precedent to draw from we can only guess what AMD and NVIDIA will do to maintain the pace of innovation in the face of manufacturing stagnation. This makes this a frustrating time &ndash; who doesn&rsquo;t miss GPUs doubling in performance every 2 years &ndash; but also an interesting one. How will AMD and NVIDIA solve the problem they face and bring newer, better products to the market? We don&rsquo;t know, and not knowing the answer leaves us open to be surprised.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">Out of NVIDIA the answer to that has come in two parts this year. NVIDIA&rsquo;s Kepler architecture, first introduced in 2012, has just about reached its retirement age. NVIDIA continues to develop new architectures on roughly a 2 year cycle, so new manufacturing process or not they have something ready to go. And that something is Maxwell.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">At the start of this year we saw the first half of the Maxwell architecture in the form of the GeForce GTX 750 and GTX 750 Ti. Based on the first generation Maxwell GM107 GPU, NVIDIA did something we still can hardly believe and managed to pull off a trifecta of improvements over Kepler. GTX 750 Ti was significantly faster than its predecessor, it was denser than its predecessor (though larger overall), and perhaps most importantly consumed less power than its predecessor. In GM107 NVIDIA was able to significantly improve their performance and reduce their power consumption at the same time, all on the same 28nm manufacturing node we&rsquo;ve come to know since 2012. For NVIDIA this was a major accomplishment, and to this day competitor AMD doesn&rsquo;t have a real answer to GM107&rsquo;s energy efficiency.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">However GM107 was only the start of the story. In deviating from their typical strategy of launching high-end GPU first &ndash; either a 100/110 or 104 GPU &ndash; NVIDIA told us up front that while they were launching in the low end first because that made the most sense for them, they would be following up on GM107 later this year with what at the time was being called &ldquo;second generation Maxwell&rdquo;. Now 7 months later and true to their word, NVIDIA is back in the spotlight with the first of the second generation Maxwell GPUs, GM204.</span></div> </div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;">GM204 itself follows up on the GM107 with everything we loved about the first Maxwell GPUs and yet with more. &ldquo;Second generation&rdquo; in this case is not just a description of the second wave of Maxwell GPUs, but in fact is a technically accurate description of the Maxwell 2 architecture. As we&rsquo;ll see in our deep dive into the architecture, Maxwell 2 has learned some new tricks compared to Maxwell 1 that make it an even more potent processor, and further extends the functionality of the family.</span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><br type="_moz" /> </span></div> <div><span style="font-size: small;"><a href="http://anandtech.com/show/8526/nvidia-geforce-gtx-980-review" target="_blank">Read more...</a></span></div>

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