Radeon Graphics: The Move To Polaris

February 3, 2018

Over the last few years, Team member Hans De Ruiter has been working steadfastly on keeping the Enhancer Software in pace with the hardware developments of AMD's latest Radeon graphics cards.

Since the first Enhancer Software release in 2016, there have been fourteen updates to the RadeonHD driver. The driver has been expanded to support the exciting Warp3D Nova system and to be compatible with many more Radeon graphics cards running the Oland chipset.

AMD are continually updating the range of cards available and using newer more advanced chipsets. To keep the Enhancer Software in pace of AMD's advancements, we have had to significantly invest in more development.

In retail channels of late, the Southern Islands cards are now no longer available with the exception of Oland based R7 240 variants. Such is the relentless march of technology in the wider computing world that the team need to keep afoot of.

Introducing Polaris

Polaris is the name given to the chipset used in many of the currently sold graphics cards debuting in 2016 and updated during 2017. It is part of AMD's Graphics Core Next fourth Generation (also known as Arctic Islands).

The architecture is very impressive: it is optimised for 14 nm FinFET process enabling higher GPU clock speeds than with the third GCN generation. Architectural improvements include new hardware schedulers, a new primitive discard accelerator, a new display controller, and an updated UVD that can decode HEVC at 4K resolutions at 60 frames per second with 10 bits per color channel.

Currently cards featuring the Polaris architecture are marketed under the Radeon RX 400 and 500 series.

One other claim to fame for Polaris, is that the PS4 Pro games console uses it's technology.

Enhancer Software Graphics Driver Development

As Project Manager, all these changes in mainstream computing graphics technology resulted in me having to hastily review our options. I knew we had to build on our development base or in future the video card options for new systems such as the X5000 would be rapidly diminishing. I concluded in early 2017 that a transition from Southern Islands to Polaris was required and work had to commence very soon given the likely scale of the project that Hans was embarking on.

By the time we had our Developer Conference in June 2017 at Amiga Kit's offices, work had already commenced. I gave a presentation to the enthusiastic developer team and Hans gave a question and answer session in video link from New Zealand.

Hans has been developing Radeon drivers since 2008 and bravely battling against problems such as non-existant hardware documentation and endianess issues. He is direct contact with engineers at AMD which is useful to fathom out black holes in the documentation and mitigate problems arising in implementing our driver.

The Polaris architecture shares some common design themes with the previous Southern Islands chipsets however there are many more changes which are completely new. Implementing them for our platform was an immense challenge. The details of the development hurdles that were overcome will most likely be pubished when the Polaris driver support reaches public release, so I will not go into these now.

Despite the long uphill struggle, Hans prevailed with his efforts. Our team has welcomed the third beta release of the driver this week and we are very much looking forward to making it available for Enhancer Software during this year.

We hope you welcome this great news as our small platform advances once again in terms of graphics support.

Matthew Leaman
Project Manager

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