A Jack Of All Trades For A Good Price
AMD is trying to close a gap in its line-up between the compute performance-oriented FirePro W9100 and the highly capable W7000 with the new FirePro W8100. It's a jack of all trades, so long as your applications are optimized for what it can do, and that $2500 price point doesn't scare you away.
A Combination of Strong Rendering And Compute Performance Yields A Well-Rounded Card
Due to its design and purpose, AMD's FirePro W8100 is perhaps the most well-rounded solution for tasks heavy in 3D rendering and and complex computing, such as CAD, CAE, multimedia, and entertainment. It pushes the $800-pricier FirePro W9100 out of the way in the same way AMD's Radeon R9 290 outshines the 290X for its superior value.
In that way, if you skipped over the FirePro W9100 due to its cost, you might be tempted by AMD’s newest offering. It has to be said that the W8100's purpose, defined on the first page of this story, is achieved perfectly, resulting in a product that’s hard for the performance-oriented professional to resist.
As long as AMD enjoys continued success promoting OpenCL support in workstation-class applications, the company's FirePro family should continue regaining market share. Officially embracing the Mac platform is a step in the right direction, even though the volume of Mac-compatible cards is still low.
4K Resolution and Connectivity Galore
The FirePro W8100 can drive up to four 4K monitors at 30 Hz, or three at 60 Hz. Its six display engines make it possible to attach that many screens through MST hubs, too. Only the FirePro W9100 offers a more advanced connectivity suite by supporting as many as six 4K screens at 30 Hz.
Eight gigabytes of on-board GDDR5 memory is sufficiently large; no application we tested was able to push that capacity to its limit. In this price range, then, AMD has no real competition. Nvidia's Quadro K5000 is quite a bit cheaper, but comes with half the memory, less 4K connectivity, and is generally slower. It takes a Quadro K6000 to beat it, and that board sells for $5000.
Cooling and Power Consumption
One opportunity for improvement is AMD's underwhelming thermal solution, which we've seen previously on the company's desktop-oriented reference cards. By redesigning the cooler, some board partners have already demonstrated that Hawaii can be made to run at much lower temperatures than 92 or 87 degrees Celsius. The challenge, of course, is that those gaming products start exhausting heat inside your chassis, and that just doesn't fly in the workstation world.
Instead, professional cards need to push thermal energy out from their I/O brackets. Nvidia does this successfully with its Quadro cards, and AMD should start following suit. The FirePro W8100's heat sink and fan undoubtedly sacrifice some of the board's performance potential, since Hawaii is known to perform best under optimal cooling.
In light of its price, the AMD FirePro W8100 is a compelling piece of hardware. It’s well-rounded and, consequently, fares well in a variety of applications. It also has a large number of connectivity options for high-resolution displays. The balanced mix of good graphics performance and a strong showing in our OpenCL-accelerated tests makes the W8100 particularly attractive in environments where both are needed, either for a specific application or the parallel usage of different applications.
It’s also nice to see that AMD closed the gap between its FirePro W7000 and flagship W9100 without making major cuts to performance. The W8100 can replace AMD’s former flagship, the W9000, in almost all areas, and boasts a lot of additional features to boot. It’ll be interesting to see if the company introduces another workstation graphics card under the W8100, maybe at a $2000 price point, when the Tonga chips are introduced.