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AMD FirePro V8700: High-End Workstation Graphics

AMD FirePro V8700: High-End Workstation Graphics
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AMD's RV770 graphics processor, so well-known for its use in gaming variants of the Radeon HD 4870, is now being used in the company's workstation graphics cards. At the same time, AMD has stepped away from its well-known FireGL brand; the most current professional graphics adapters now carry a FirePro label. Tom's Hardware has been lucky enough to score an early production model, the FirePro V8700, for comprehensive benchmarking.

The FirePro boards also mark a complete switchover by AMD from 80 to 55 nanometer manufacturing technology. Buyers should rejoice in that this means reduced power consumption, and correspondingly quieter cooling fans. But can a smaller die size and related technological advancements also improve performance?

Price is certainly a key factor here. At a price of $930 at Newegg, the V8700 is an astounding $284 cheaper than its predecessor, the FireGL V8600. Until this product hit the market, AMD's ATI division had always placed great emphasis on maintaining price-performance ratios across similar products of its own design.

Nvidia has historically been able to outperform similar ATI products at the highest end of its product offerings. These days, Nvidia buyers must be willing to settle for performance parity instead--for example, see our previous article, "Pro Graphics: Seven Cards Compared".

It's not completely clear to us why ATI has suddenly dropped the GL suffix from its Fire brand names, replacing that portion of that name with "Pro" instead. In discussions with product managers at ATI, we were repeatedly informed that "Pro" stands for "Professional" and thus better speaks to the goals of the workstation graphics group. Nevertheless, we believe that it can be risky to mess around with established brand names. Perhaps it makes more sense to see this move as a way of de-emphasizing differences between OpenGL and DirectX technologies? Either way, ATI has decided to switch its branding completely from FireGL to FirePro.

Market Overview

Workstation Graphics Cards and their Mainstream Equivalents
Workstation-
Model
Chip-
Basis
FabMainstream-
Equivalent
Graphics RAM
3-Pin StereoDisplay Port
ATI FirePro V8700
RV770
55 nm
Radeon HD 4870
1024 MB GDDR5
yes
yes
ATI FireGL V8600R60080 nmRadeon HD 2900 XT1024 MB GDDR4yes
no
ATI FireGL V7700RV67055 nmRadeon HD 3850512 MB GDDR4yesyes
ATI FireGL V7600R60080 nmRadeon HD 2900512 MB GDDR3yesno
ATI FireGL V5600RV63065 nmRadeon HD 2600 XT512 MB GDDR4nono
Nvidia Quadro FX 5600G8090 nmGeForce 88001536 MB GDDR3yesno
Nvidia Quadro FX 4600G8090 nmGeForce 8800768 MB GDDR3yesno
Nvidia Quadro FX 1700G8480 nmGeForce 8600512 MB DDR2yesno

Workstation-
Model
Memory
Bandwidth
DirectXOpenGLShader ModelCore ClockMemory ClockPixel and Vertex Processing
ATI FirePro V8700115 GB/s10.12.14.0750 MHz900 MHz800 SPUs
ATI FireGL V8600111 GB/s102.14.0675 MHz868 MHz320 SPUs
ATI FireGL V770072.0 GB/s10.12.14.0775 MHz1125 MHz320 SPUs
ATI FireGL V760051.0 GB/s102.14.0500 MHz510 MHz320 SPUs
ATI FireGL V560035.1 GB/s102.14.0800 MHz1100 MHz120 SPUs
Nvidia Quadro FX 560076.8 GB/s102.14.0600 MHz800 MHz112 SPUs
Nvidia Quadro FX 460067.2 GB/s102.14.0500 MHz700 MHz112 SPUs
Nvidia Quadro FX 170012.8 GB/s102.14.0460 MHz400 MHz32 SPUs

Legend: SPUs = Stream Processing Units

In this context, we also think it's wise to describe a couple of interesting software initiatives. When it comes to Nvidia's CUDA (Computer Unified Device Architecture) we can offer a comprehensive article. On the other hand, the competition offers its own AMD Stream Computing. We dig into this more deeply on the next page, and do likewise for the ATI FirePro V8700 hardware details.

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  • 12 Hide
    Harby , March 4, 2009 9:51 AM
    AntiphonalIt's funny - my HD4870 is intentionally crippled in applications that I will not use so they can use a 5x price mark up for people who use those applications. /sigh


    You're clueless. The price premium is for the drivers themselves, not the hardware. No one crippled your gaming card. But no one optimized its drivers for workstation applications either. And these optimizations are not simple tweaks but massive and careful code to give you massive performance boost under very very specific applications.

    You could go as far as saying that you're in essence buying an expensive piece of software as well and not just a graphics card.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    Tindytim , March 4, 2009 6:01 AM
    Can we get some BIOS hacks for the next review of Workstation cards? Since 99% of the cards are just Desktop variants with the drivers being the difference, all that's Needed is a BIOS hack.

    I'd love to see how the real thing would stack up next to a card with different BIOS.
  • 5 Hide
    bvanveelen , March 4, 2009 7:24 AM
    Is that 1% difference in hardware enough to give these big differences? If the firepro drivers could somehow be applied to a HD4870 would it give similar performance?
  • -1 Hide
    curnel_D , March 4, 2009 8:22 AM
    TindytimCan we get some BIOS hacks for the next review of Workstation cards? Since 99% of the cards are just Desktop variants with the drivers being the difference, all that's Needed is a BIOS hack.I'd love to see how the real thing would stack up next to a card with different BIOS.

    Ok, so basically, we'd have to get ahold of a fireGL bios, and hack it into a 3850. If there was an equivilant to a 3870, I'd do it myself.
    Who's brave enough? :p 
  • 1 Hide
    Tindytim , March 4, 2009 8:23 AM
    bvanveelenIs that 1% difference in hardware enough to give these big differences? If the firepro drivers could somehow be applied to a HD4870 would it give similar performance?

    That's what a BIOS hack will do. You change the BIOS of the 4870 card to that of it's workstation equivalent.
  • 5 Hide
    Antiphonal , March 4, 2009 9:24 AM
    It's funny - my HD4870 is intentionally crippled in applications that I will not use so they can use a 5x price mark up for people who use those applications. /sigh
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , March 4, 2009 9:50 AM
    curnel_dOk, so basically, we'd have to get ahold of a fireGL bios, and hack it into a 3850. If there was an equivilant to a 3870, I'd do it myself. Who's brave enough?

    Do a google search. It's been done before. Although I doubt this new card would yield any benefit over a 4870 with a BIOS hack, other than in some overclocking.

    I'd be more interested in the Nvidia card because then they at least add a little more VRAM. Hell, I'd love to see a Quadro card, with lots of VRAM, BIOS hacked to a Desktop variant to see how it would do at higher resolutions over the actual desktop variant.
  • 12 Hide
    Harby , March 4, 2009 9:51 AM
    AntiphonalIt's funny - my HD4870 is intentionally crippled in applications that I will not use so they can use a 5x price mark up for people who use those applications. /sigh


    You're clueless. The price premium is for the drivers themselves, not the hardware. No one crippled your gaming card. But no one optimized its drivers for workstation applications either. And these optimizations are not simple tweaks but massive and careful code to give you massive performance boost under very very specific applications.

    You could go as far as saying that you're in essence buying an expensive piece of software as well and not just a graphics card.
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , March 4, 2009 10:34 AM
    You should test the other way around also, how does workstation card perform in games? (Not possible maybe)
  • 2 Hide
    Harby , March 4, 2009 10:39 AM
    vixenistheshitYou should test the other way around also, how does workstation card perform in games? (Not possible maybe)


    Of course its possible. But at best performance will be equal, I would assume a bit worse, depending on whether FirePro drivers include the specific game optimizations catalayst includes or not.
  • -1 Hide
    krazyderek , March 4, 2009 10:43 AM
    Drivers and 3yr support aside, I really really really really would have liked to see the top 4870 1gb consumer card thrown in just for a reference point. It would do wonders to help justify the price markup to my boss that signs the purchase order.
  • 0 Hide
    krazyderek , March 4, 2009 10:48 AM
    AH HA! there is one, thank you TH!
  • -3 Hide
    JPForums , March 4, 2009 11:06 AM
    Wow, I never would've thought that the V7700 would've outperformed the V8700 in any of the benchmarks. I never thought the GPU frequency difference of 25MHz would make up for fact that the V8700 has 2.5x sthe SPUs and ~60% more memory bandwidth than the V7700 (given how similar the architectures are). Can this one be chalked up to less mature drivers or is there some hardware design issue hindering the performance of what seems to be the clearly superior card?

    The V8700 doesn't loose to the V7700 all that often, but in some of the cases when it does loose, it also looses to nVidia's counterparts (with the V7700 winning). It would be a much more compelling product (especially at the already good price) if it could beat the V7700 across the board.
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , March 4, 2009 11:16 AM
    HarbyOf course its possible. But at best performance will be equal, I would assume a bit worse, depending on whether FirePro drivers include the specific game optimizations catalayst includes or not.

    Ah, but that's assuming they are the same. Some Nvidia cards have more VRAM than their desktop counterparts. With a BIOS hack, I wouldn't be surprised if they did better than them, especially in those higher res situations.
  • 0 Hide
    lamorpa , March 4, 2009 11:44 AM
    Maybe, "the pricing on this card makes it a very good deal for the money" could be better phrased as, "the money you pay based on pricing on this card makes the amount you pay a very good deal in terms monetary amount for the money that you pay which is less money than you might expect because it is a good money deal"
  • 0 Hide
    Pei-chen , March 4, 2009 12:02 PM
    Would the new GTX 285 2GB outperform these cards? 285 2GB is so much more powerful in gaming maybe it can make a difference in rendering.
  • -3 Hide
    pcfxer , March 4, 2009 12:03 PM
    Aren't the FirePro and GL cards more money than the desktop variants??? Why would you then waste your time with a hack?
  • 3 Hide
    Tindytim , March 4, 2009 12:07 PM
    pcfxerAren't the FirePro and GL cards more money than the desktop variants??? Why would you then waste your time with a hack?

    You got it backwards. You get a cheaper desktop card, BIOS hack is, then use the expensive FirePro drivers.
  • -7 Hide
    bustapr , March 4, 2009 1:14 PM
    Does this mean that the firepro is better at everything than a hd4870?
  • 1 Hide
    ses27 , March 4, 2009 1:24 PM
    If the soldworks benchmark is still openGL then its obsolete
    Soldedworks went directX in ver 2009
    And there main competition Inventor in 2008
    Both stating the fact that openGL cards are too expensive
    So TW your soldworks benchmark looks obsolete
  • -2 Hide
    judeh101 , March 4, 2009 1:38 PM
    I can't wait for Firepro.
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