Articles: Graphics

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 Besides gaming graphics cards, we also test professional products in our labs. However, we have mostly limited ourselves to Nvidia solutions, leaving AMD ones out of our scope. For example, in our recent review of the Quadro K5000 we compared it with the previous generation of Quadro cards rather than with AMD’s FirePro W series. 

This didn’t make our review inadequate, though. The fact is that AMD’s professional graphics solutions are far from popular. The company’s share of this market has varied from 10 to 20% in the last few years, being much smaller than Nvidia’s. And there are reasons for that. Professional users need a special attitude, but AMD didn’t engage into a dialogue with them, letting its graphics cards sell by themselves. This marketing policy only works with gaming products, however. Indeed, the Radeon HD series owes its popularity to AMD’s pricing policy, always offering an attractive price/performance ratio, but this approach is not efficient when it comes to graphics cards for high-performance workstations. Price is just not the main priority for professional users who run computer-aided design and modeling applications.

The key priorities are high performance in CAD/CAM systems and appropriate tech support. AMD has not been doing well in this respect. The company didn’t work closely with developers of professional software suites, which resulted in the lack of application-specific driver optimizations. So, there were problems with speed as well as with hardware certification. It is not surprising then that system integrators that supply professional workstations were generally far from optimistic about the FirePro series.

This situation is likely to change now. The PC market has been shrinking, making the graphics card developers think about other market niches and high-performance workstations look like a lucrative one. Even though sales volumes are much smaller there in comparison with the PC market, professional graphics cards are more expensive, so the resulting profits may be comparable to those from gaming products. That’s why AMD has been paying more attention to the professional market lately. The company has updated its product range, transferring it to the Southern Islands GPUs, and has begun to actively cooperate with CAD/CAM application developers (with PTC in the first place) and add application-specific optimizations into the drivers.

AMD’s marketing policy has changed as well. The company has become interested in independent testing of its new-generation FirePro solutions, and that’s how we’ve got a couple of AMD products we are going to study in this review.

There is another reason for our writing this review, though. Nvidia has recently extended its product range of new-generation professional products. As opposed to AMD which focuses on top-performance cards right now, Nvidia offers a full spectrum of hardware CAD/CAM solutions. The Quadro K5000 model is now accompanied by new Kepler-based cards some of which we’ve got for us to test, too.

Thus, we can carry out a comparative test of the following professional graphics cards: AMD FirePro W8000, AMD FirePro W7000, Nvidia Quadro K5000, Nvidia Quadro K4000, Nvidia Quadro K2000 and Nvidia Quadro K600. In other words, we have CAD/CAM-targeted solutions from both GPU developers and their prices range from $170 to $1800.

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