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FirePro W9000 And W7000 Do Well; FirePro W8000 Disappoints

How Well Do Workstation Graphics Cards Play Games?

Workstation graphics cards are optimized for stability, reliability, and a class of software most often used by professionals to make money. Their alacrity in games varies wildly.

On one hand, it’s interesting to see how the AMD FirePro W7000 beats the company's gaming-oriented Radeon HD 7870 in some tests and finishes slightly behind it overall. Given the W7000’s lower clock rate and Catalyst Pro drivers that aren’t optimized for gaming, we would have expected it to fall in line right behind the Radeon HD 7850.

On the other hand, the FirePro W8000 massively underperforms in our game-based benchmarks. It doesn’t just get beaten by AMD's less expensive FirePro W7000, but also by the higher-end Nvidia Quadro cards with their previous-generation Fermi GPUs.

The FirePro W7000 sells for about $770. That’s a great price for a powerful workstation card that can handle gaming when your work day is over. Performance in pro apps based completely on DirectX is similarly good. We took a quick look at this board using Maya 2013 and AutoCAD, and it has no trouble competing against more expensive products. If you don’t have to have CUDA support for your workload or an exclusive certification for a specific application, then the FirePro W7000 is certainly worth consideration.

Another of the FirePro W7000's strong points is its power consumption. This is Pitcairn at its best. The card manages to stay well below AMD's specified 150 W ceiling during normal operation, and in fact falls below 100 W much of the time in games. This is why I personally recommend it to anyone who doesn’t need to use Nvidia-exclusive applications.

Bottom Line

We often get folks wondering how desktop-oriented apps handle professional workloads, and today's experiment turned that question around. Now we know that workstation graphics cards are better for gaming than gaming cards are in professional tasks. Case in point: The FirePro W9000 nearly manages to keep up with AMD's Radeon HD 7970. The slightly lower performance of a workstation card in the latest shooter is a lot easier to live with than the massively lower performance you get from a GeForce or Radeon in a professional application.

Once again, the lesson here is that, in the workstation graphics segment, you don’t pay that massive premium for better hardware so much as you pay for the drivers and validation. This isn't something that should be held against AMD or Nvidia, even though we know they sell the same silicon into cards that cost a fraction as much. Driver development and optimization takes a lot of expensive time and work. Games are fun and all, but when you step aboard that new 787, you need to trust that the workstations responsible for every piece of it were 100% accurate.

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