In our tests of professional graphics cards, we first run SPECViewperf, which has become an industry standard for benchmarking graphics workstations. SPECViewperf sends predefined sequences of OpenGL instructions to the graphics card driver, describing rotations of complex models typical of various professional applications. By simulating such rather primitive operations, this benchmark reports the geometrical performance of a graphics card which is determined by hardware features as well as driver optimizations.
The scripts integrated into SPECviewperf version 11 emulate the user’s work in wireframe mode in the following professional applications (the names of corresponding tests are given in brackets): LightWave (lightwave-01), CATIA (catia-03), EnSight (ensight-04), Maya (maya-03), Pro/ENGINEER (proe-05), SolidWorks (sw-03), Siemens Teamcenter Visualization Mockup (tcvis-02) and Siemens NX (snx-01).
Nvidia’s professional cards have higher results in the synthetic benchmarks than the AMD FirePro series. Judging by the SPECviewperf scores, the FirePro W8000 and W7000 are only comparable to the Quadro K2000, which doesn't agree well with their market positioning. We can also note that AMD’s cards from different price categories and with different GPUs have very similar results in quite a lot of test scenarios. This is due to the specifics of SPECviewperf which generates a stream of rather simple commands that make heavy use of the GPU's raster operators but hardly ever need the shader domain. Modern versions of CAD/CAM applications have moved away from such visualization mechanisms, trying to put the graphics card’s shader processors to a better use. That’s how AMD itself explains the rather poor performance of the new FirePro cards in SPECviewperf. In other words, this benchmark is not the final truth at all and cannot replace tests in real-life applications.
For all its downsides, SPECviewperf 11.0 can show us the effect of full-screen antialiasing on performance. In the diagrams below you can see how the SPECviewperf scores change when we enable various FSAA modes.
The professional cards from AMD and Nvidia differ in their behavior with full-screen antialiasing. Nvidia's cards slow down as the level of FSAA increases, which is just what we might expect. The AMD FirePro series, however, often deliver the same performance irrespective of FSAA levels. Moreover, they do not support FSAA levels higher than x16. All of this makes us suspect the FirePro W series driver to share a large amount of code with the gaming Catalyst driver. The FirePro series behave like gaming rather than professional cards in SPECviewperf.
So, while Nvidia implements general OpenGL optimizations in its driver for professional products, AMD seems to focus on performance in specific applications and borrows a lot of features from the gaming driver. We guess each approach is viable but you should be aware that FirePro cards may potentially have more problems with specialized OpenGL applications than the Quadro series.
While providing a good general notion of the professional cards’ OpenGL performance, SPECviewperf 11.0 is still just a synthetic benchmark. That’s why we don’t limit our testing to it. We’ll also run a few actual professional applications.