Given everything surrounding the current graphics world at the time of writing -- with big highlights that include the recent AMD/ATI merger, the introduction of a new programming shading model via DirectX, NVIDIA's introduction of G80, real-time graphics hardware in the new generation of consoles, and Intel's intent to come back to discrete -- the speculation and anticipation for AMD's next generation of Radeon hardware has reached levels never seen before. 4 years in the making by a team of some 300 engineers, the chip takes the best bits of R5 and Xenos, along with new technology, to create their next architecture.

How it performs, and how it slides in to the big graphics picture, means the base architecture and its derivative implementations will have an impact on the industry that will be felt a long time from launch day. If you're not excited about what we're about to explain and go over in the following pages, you haven't been paying attention to the state of the GPU union over the last year and a half, since we live in the most exciting graphics-related times since Voodoo Graphics blazed its real-time, mass-market consumer trail.

The engineers at the new AMD Graphics Products Group have been beavering away for the last few years on what they call their 2nd generation unified shader architecture. Based in part on what you can find today in the Xenos GPU inside the Xbox 360 console, AMD's D3D10 compliant hardware has been a long time coming. Obviously delayed and with product family teething troubles, R600, RV610 and RV630 -- the first implementations of the new architecture -- break cover today for the first time, at least officially!

We'll let you know the architecture basics first, before diving in for closer looks at some of the bigger things the architecture and the implementing GPUs do. As with our G80 analysis, we split things in to three, covering architecture in this piece, before looking at image quality and performance in subsequent articles, to divide things up into manageable chunks for us to create and you to consume.

AMD have embargoed performance analysis of RV610 and RV630 until next month, but we're allowed to talk about those GPUs in terms of architecture and their board-level implementations, so we'll do that later today, after our look at R600, the father of the family. Tank once said, "Damn, it's a very exciting time". Too true, Tank, too true. He also said shortly afterwards, "We got a lot to do, let's get to it". We'll heed his sage advice.