This week, ASUS introduced new “AREZ” branding for their AMD Radeon video cards. This announcement comes in conjunction with an AMD ‘freedom of choice’ initiative for consumers and gamers. Unmentioned, but inextricably intertwined, is NVIDIA’s highly controversial and recently-announced GeForce Partner Program (GPP), of which there’s little first-hand information, but is widely perceived as being a consumer-unfriendly project.
NVIDIA describes GPP as a consumer transparency program with partners and OEMs that include incentives such as early access to new technologies, engineering support, and joint marketing (though the distinction between market development funds and co-operative funds was not made), types of programs that are common in the industry. However, unique to GPP and key to today’s announcements is that Partners are required to place NVIDIA cards under their own brand, as opposed to the status-quo of both AMD and NVIDIA products showing up under the same brand (e.g. ASUS’s Republic of Gamers).
In practice this has meant that Partners have booted AMD off of their existing brands. And with few verifiable facts about how these decisions were made, they’ve been subject to heavy speculation, ranging from Partners keeping their existing brands for their highest volume products – NVIDIA typically outsells AMD at around 3:1 in the GPU market – to NVIDIA secretly requiring that Partners only use their existing brands for this endeavor. (ed: officially, NVIDIA says that they don’t care as long as it’s a GeForce-only brand, but the general secrecy around GPP means that they have a public credibiltiy problem right now).
As for ASUS, the new “AREZ” brand supersedes the previous vendor-agnostic branding of “Republic of Gamers” and “ROG STRIX,” existing sub-brands that includes both systems and computer components such as discrete graphics cards. In practice, “ROG Strix” tier Radeon products have now been shuffled into it’s own branding without any further official details, while AMD motherboards have been untouched. Though it’s interesting to note that even with this latest development, AREZ isn’t strictly a new brand for ASUS. Ultra high-end dual-GPU Radeon solutions have classically fallen under the “Ares” label in the past. So the name isn’t completely detached from video card history; rather it’s had a Z bolted on to the end.
For ASUS’ Republic of Gamers, the brand was originally created as a halo brand oriented for enthusiast-class products, offering higher quality (and more profitable) components and specialty community support. Long time readers may recall that an ASUS Republic of Gamers motherboard received a very rare AnandTech Editors’ Choice Gold Award back in 2012, where we had said, “Users who participate in the Republic of Gamers are well catered for, and get the best ASUS has to offer in terms of help, information, previews, experience.” If these changes are representative of the brand as a whole, than this experience will be only offered for GeForce owners. And likewise, consumers will only be exposed to GeForce products through ROG.
The affected products appear to have only undergone rebranding, rather than any specification changes. The cutover is not complete, as equivalent listings still appear to exist under the ROG category, and a look through the AREZ video card specifications show some products still list ROG branded accessories, such as the “ROG velcro strap.”
Meanwhile, AMD connected the “AREZ” brand to new upcoming brands, announcing that “over the coming weeks, you can expect to see our add-in board partners launch new brands that carry an AMD Radeon product.” In their blogpost titled “Radeon RX Graphics: A Gamer’s Choice”, the company expounded on the idea of consumer “freedom of choice,” explicitly connecting certain values with these new brands. Of these, AMD brought up FreeSync as opposed to “penalizing gamers with proprietary technology ‘taxes’ and limiting their choices in displays,” as well as “no anti-gamer / anti-competitive strings attached” in their relationships with board partners.
All-in-all, AMD is drawing a line here, focusing on consumer awareness and industry ‘values’ rather than dragging in AIB partners into a straight-up internal AMD/NVIDIA fight. Leveraging and expanding their traditional open ecosystem strategy, AMD is emphasizing its efforts with JEDEC HBM standards, work with the Vulkan API, and initiatives with GPUOpen. These ‘values’, so to speak, are already technologies that AMD pushes, and so the company is doubling-down in how they communicate these aspects to enthusiasts when they look at these new AIB brands.
In other words, the wording is clearly aimed at, but refrains from specifically mentioning, the recent controversies with NVIDIA GPP. Likewise, AMD’s description of “AREZ” does not specify whether their announcement is a reactive reframing of board partner rebranding, or a proactive creation of a particular initiative. Across the add-in board partner environment, it’s been reported that other partners have been dropping brands from Radeon products here and there, though none as prominant or wholesale as AREZ.
Given the nature of NVIDIA GPP, conclusive details will likely be impossible to retrieve. But we can say that the new AMD Radeon sub-brands in the coming weeks will greatly elucidate the exact relationship with NVIDIA GPP.