AMD FirePro W8000: A Bargain At $1600?
We’ve been waiting for AMD’s FirePro W-series cards for a long time. The first GCN-based desktop boards debuted in November of last year, after all.
Two factors contributed to the delay. First, AMD was undoubtedly constrained on the number of 28 nm wafer to which it had access. The manufacturing process has matured over time, though, allowing the company to offer cards at higher clock speeds without compromising long-term reliability. Second, its drivers needed to be optimized for a variety of applications and environments. On a brand new architecture, in particular, this takes a while.
Then again, we don’t necessarily think that AMD's supporting software is as well-tuned as it could be in a number of different scenarios we tested. So, we recommend that you do some research into what you'll be doing with these cards before buying one of them. If the FirePro W-series turns out to be well-suited for your needs, you’ll get good 2D performance that matches AMD’s older cards, as well as better 3D and GPGPU (OpenCL) performance.
A direct comparison between AMD’s FirePro W-series and Nvidia’s Quadro family is difficult. One somehow manages to shine when the other runs into major problems. The tasks these cards are built to perform are varied and complex, leaving us to look at benchmarks for specific tasks, which keep us from generalizing about performance overall.
TSMC's 28 nm process technology, AMD's GCN architecture, and the hardware-accelerated features yet to be enabled by ISVs are all very promising. However, AMD's drivers don't necessarily seem mature enough to gauge what these cards will do in the weeks and months to follow. But potential is there, and once AMD’s software team is done closing some of the gaps seen in today's testing, the new FirePro cards could become well-priced alternatives to Nvidia's more established Quadro line-up. We’re also looking forward to the lower-end offerings in AMD’s FirePro W-series, and we’ll try to get our hands on them as soon as they're available.
As far as recommendations go, we'll limit ourselves to AMD's FirePro family for comparison purposes. Putting AMD up against Nvidia at this stage is simply too difficult. What we do know is that, on the desktop, the fastest GCN-based cards are easily faster than the fastest Fermi-based boards. And, fully-optimized, we'd expect these high-end FirePro W-series cards to maintain that lead.
So, it's not difficult to give the FirePro W8000 a thumbs-up based on its price to performance ratio. The W8000 costs a lot less, operates more efficiently (and quietly), and performs almost as well as AMD's FirePro W9000. Yes, it's a little strange to give a $1600 graphics card a value-oriented recommendation knowing that most folks have no need for such an expensive piece of hardware. However, for the professional users who can't compromise on points like validation, performance, or support, $1600 can quickly pay for itself in recovered productivity.
If you don’t need the FirePro W9000's extra performance, AMD's FirePro W8000 should make a great long-term workhorse in your workstation. The company has already taken strides in catching its competition, and we expect it to continue chipping away at its deficit. What remains to be seen is how Nvidia's Kepler-based Quadro cards compare.