Volcanic Islands is the code name of AMD’s coming graphics circuit architecture and when the first block diagram for the chip leaked it revealed a whole new architecture with obvious CPU influences. Besides thousands of parallel calculation units the circuits also has serial processor cores.

We have seen several heavy graphics card launch this year, but despite new flagships from both AMD and Nvidia we are still stuck with the same base architectures. While Nvidia is preparing an update for the Geforce family with a tweaked version of the Kepler architecture, AMD is getting ready for a bigger re-launch by the end of the year.

During Q4 AMD is expected to launch the new GPU architecture Volcanic Islands. The code names spawn from a collection of volcanic island in the pacific ocean known as the Ring of Fire. If AMD’s new architecture is just as explosive as the many volcanic islands in the Ring of Fire remains to be seen, but we can at least expect some new moves on a fairly predictable graphics market.

“Hawaii” with 4,096 stream processors and 512-bit GDDR5

Chinese form Chiphell have published a picture that is said to be a block diagram of AMD’s new top model. This will be a graphics circuit called “Hawaii” housing no less than 4,096 stream processors, 256 texture units, 64 ROPs and a mighty 512-bit memory bus. The most interesting bit is the 16 serial processor cores that are distributed across 8 SPMs (Serial Processing Modules). In contrast to the parallel stream processors in the PCM (Parallel Compute Module) the serial cores are better suited for generic GPU calculations. Most likely these builds on some simpler form of x86 or ARM. Hawaii will replace the Tahiti GPU that is used in Radeon HD 7970.


As always these rumors should be taken with a punch of salt, but it is an interesting development for AMD that is working hard on integrating GPU circuits into its CPU circuits, and now doing the reverse for the discrete graphics cards. This would result in a big boost of crunching power for Volcanic Islands, or at least “Hawaii” that the diagram is said to show.

Nvidia bakes CPU circuits into GPU for supercomputers

Adding more traditional CPU cores next to parallel GPU cores is something Nvidia is working on for future solutions. For example the supercomputer project Echelon where a small number of CPU-like cores are paired with thousands of graphics cores for maximizing performance when doing generic tasks. This will be the key for creating supercomputers with ExaFLOPS performance.


Whether AMD’s implementation of serial processing cores will be usable in games and other 3D applications is unclear, but we do see more and more games making use of the compute performance of graphics circuits, something that will be even more common in the future.

Volcanic Islands and the graphics circuit Hawaii is expected to launch in Q4 2013 and be made with 20 nanometer technology.

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