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FirePro V3900: Faster Than Quadro, Still Entry-Level

FirePro V3900: Entry-Level Workstation Graphics
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Summary and Conclusion

Our benchmark test shows that the FirePro V3900 is a viable OpenGL-oriented accelerator. It dominates the similarly-priced Quadro 400, and even bests the more expensive Quadro 600 in most scenarios, sometimes dramatically so.

Workstation Card or Consumer Card?

We included the V3900’s desktop cousin, the Radeon HD 6570, and Nvidia's entry-level GeForce GT 430, which shares the GF108 chip with its workstation sibling, Quadro 600. Consequently, we see some massive performance dips attributable to the consumer-grade drivers. You're asked to pay a notable premium for workstation cards built on familiar graphics processors and their specially-optimized drivers. But even if that deliberate segmentation seems excessive, for folks whose jobs depend on good performance and validation in money-making applications, paying the extra money is probably justified.

Image quality is something that can't be quantified using the bar graphs from a benchmark. However, the mainstream gaming cards do have noticeably inferior image quality. We ran across plenty of examples of edges that should have been hidden, but weren't (see the picture above), which you simply don't see from workstation cards. The professional hardware also renders wire frame models and textured areas much better. If you use CAD software for a living and want the best results, you really should be using a FirePro or Quadro, and not a Radeon or GeForce. If you're just experimenting with professional software and don't require professional quality, you may get by with a consumer-grade card.

Closing Thoughts

The FirePro V3900 is a fitting successor for the V3800. Priced at $110, we consider it to be a good value in the entry-level workstation graphics card space. As long as you're primarily looking at mostly static CAD images, this card is a good alternative to the low-end Quadro cards, both with respect to price and performance.

We aren't going out on a limb when we call it a price/performance leader for its segment. However, we must stress that the graphics processing potential of this card is comparably low-end compared to the Radeon HD 6570 with which most folks are familiar. Thus, the FirePro V3900 may be unsuitable for more demanding professional workloads, such as complex CAD animations. In the end, you need to take the application software, the use case, and your budget into account when making your purchase decision. If you don't need high-end graphics performance, a low-power, low-profile card like the V3900 may be the right buy for you.

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  • 5 Hide
    djjoejoe , March 16, 2012 6:33 AM
    If a large difference between a workstation card and a gaming card can be the drivers, does this apply to gaming performance as well? Does the workstation GPU preform similar to the desktop equiv or higher thanks to 'better' drivers. Is it just a case of drivers being optimized for things that end up not applying to gaming, thus any sort of performance increase only applies to none gaming applications?

    Just curious :) 
  • 3 Hide
    SpadeM , March 16, 2012 7:02 AM
    I'm curious about some things, can you pop one of these cards in a pc running next to a 560Ti used for gaming? And then exchange the output in the back of the pc and select the workstation card to use to render in max or maya? Or do you have to reboot every time you set the video output?
  • 5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , March 16, 2012 8:42 AM
    Can these cards run...THAT game? OR any other GPU intense game?
  • 3 Hide
    RazorBurn , March 16, 2012 9:02 AM
    Both Cards run on the same Hardware, its just that Professional Video Cards have their Drivers optimized to CAD/CGI, etc.. Its like two same SUV cars with Same Engine, but with different tires, one with plain road tire and the other has snow tires.. SUV with a snow tires will certainly run better in snow terrain that the plain road tire SUV..

    CAD apps like AutoCAD had Optimized code to run better on Professional Video Cards because the Optimized code in the Drivers.. Unlike Gaming Video Cards which has Optimized codes for Games but not on this CAD apps..
  • 8 Hide
    Olle P , March 16, 2012 9:49 AM
    It would be nice to see one or two games thrown into the test.
    Just for the heck of it, and also to answer the question:
    - Which card is the better choice for my work station if I'd also like to run a game or two during the lunch break?
  • 3 Hide
    EDVINASM , March 16, 2012 10:51 AM
    I wonder, is there going to be a new budget version out soon based on AMD 7xxx series?
  • -4 Hide
    Anonymous , March 16, 2012 10:52 AM
    These clowns need to be brought into court for this intentionally crippling of desktop GPUs, and price fixing of workstation cards.

    This travesty needs to stop.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , March 16, 2012 10:54 AM
    Exactly. With how often the question is asked, "How well will this or that pro card perform in games?", I can't believe at least one or two game benchmarks weren't included.

    I'd especially like to see some benchmarks on mid-range pro cards.

    Also, same question as above, can I use a Profession CAD graphics card along side a gaming card and get CAD benefits on one monitor and gaming on the other.
  • 2 Hide
    EDVINASM , March 16, 2012 10:58 AM
    MarriedManExactly. With how often the question is asked, "How well will this or that pro card perform in games?", I can't believe at least one or two game benchmarks weren't included.I'd especially like to see some benchmarks on mid-range pro cards. Also, same question as above, can I use a Profession CAD graphics card along side a gaming card and get CAD benefits on one monitor and gaming on the other.


    Unless your motherboard supports PCI Express slot switch off via software you can't. Even if it would, you would need to restart. Plus knowing AMD driver compatibility and reliability I wouldn't even hope atm. If you are gaming a lot and doing a lot of 3D, question is, what is more important to you, games or 3D content creation? If you are just beginner and doing CAD for fun, you will get by with gaming GPU. Otherwise, you must be making money on your projects and you should afford mid-high GPU for CAD.
  • 2 Hide
    jaquith , March 16, 2012 11:45 AM
    Nice article and thank you!

    Holly cow, you weren't kidding when you said 'Entry Level', this is more like 'Impoverished Level.'

    To me an entry level are sub-$400 cards; nVidia Quadro 2000 series and AMD FirePro v5800. Obviously, Pro GPU's are tailored for their use.
  • 1 Hide
    Microgoliath , March 16, 2012 12:07 PM
    This is just to make more money, I'm pretty sure they can mix both drivers (obv gna be a bigger driver then) containing both codes to optimize both gaming and CAD related stuff since both gpus use the same hardware.
  • 2 Hide
    EDVINASM , March 16, 2012 12:28 PM
    MicrogoliathThis is just to make more money, I'm pretty sure they can mix both drivers (obv gna be a bigger driver then) containing both codes to optimize both gaming and CAD related stuff since both gpus use the same hardware.


    Key word is support. Try to reach support with your 7 series GPU and then try the same when you are professional CAD user with CAD dedicated FirePro.
  • 2 Hide
    spookyman , March 16, 2012 12:42 PM
    These cards are great for general office users who have multiple monitor setups.

  • 3 Hide
    fuzznarf , March 16, 2012 12:50 PM
    This should have included some sort of Blender benchmark. Not everyone who uses a workstation is a cad designer. Some of us do modelling and rendering with Blender.
  • 2 Hide
    fir_ser , March 16, 2012 1:25 PM
    It’s good to hear that tom’s is going to include workstation graphics cards to its charts, hope they will include the high end ones such as the Nvidia Tesla.
  • -1 Hide
    EDVINASM , March 16, 2012 2:08 PM
    fuzznarfThis should have included some sort of Blender benchmark. Not everyone who uses a workstation is a cad designer. Some of us do modelling and rendering with Blender.


    Blender is a free tool. Hardly AMD would be spending money to optimise for freeware.
  • 2 Hide
    fuzznarf , March 16, 2012 2:26 PM
    edvinasmBlender is a free tool. Hardly AMD would be spending money to optimise for freeware.

    its not about optimization for a free tool.. the cost of the tool isn't relevant. it is probably the most used tool in the graphical modelling/rendering world. hence a benchmark would be nice. Like i said, not everyone is build 3d engineering schematics with CAD.
  • 3 Hide
    CaedenV , March 16, 2012 3:09 PM
    edvinasmBlender is a free tool. Hardly AMD would be spending money to optimise for freeware.

    Blender may well be a free tool, but it is amazingly powerful and many large companies use it with their own UI and plugins for very large projects. It is used from everything from movies to video game design, and it would be very nice to see how it stacks up.
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , March 16, 2012 3:09 PM
    Joshkorn beat me to it; this is perhaps the one time where the question "but can it play ?" is relevant. I suspect, however, that a pro doing design work on a system containing one of these (or perhaps a more upstream workstation card) isn't likely to have much trouble affording an entirely separate rig nearby just for games.
  • 0 Hide
    CaedenV , March 16, 2012 3:18 PM
    Interesting article, but kinda strange as well. These cards are not really made for doing design work as much as they are for managers and other non-techs to view other people's projects for review. Still, I enjoyed reading the article and would love to see followups on higher end products. I would especially love to see comparisons between gaming GPUs compared with their workstation cousins. I know many of the workstation cards are very similar hardware that is underclocked for stability, or with ECC, and simply have a different driver, while other architectures in the past have been vastly different from the more civilian cards.

    Still, if you are making any amount of money doing this kind of work I am pretty sure you would be spending a minimum of $250 on your card, and likely somewhere in the $500-1000 range because it is the bottleneck of your productivity and the main determining factor on how many projects a person can do in a year.

    Lastly, I would love to see how this card scales on different hardware to see how much was the $100 GPU, vs how much was due to running a duel CPU setup ;)  Something tells me that most computers this particular card would go in are very small desktops with 4GB of ram and a duel core CPU.
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