How Well Do Workstation Graphics Cards Play Games?

Can Workstation Graphics Cards Play Games?

A while back, our German team benchmarked a total of 40 graphics cards (including 12 professional boards and 28 more gaming-oriented cards) at the request of our readers. We already covered some of the specific features that separate workstation hardware from the stuff most of use on the desktop in AMD FirePro W8000 And W9000 Review: GCN Goes Pro, so we won't rehash all of that. As you probably already know, though, the more expensive workstation products ship with drivers specifically optimized for certain applications. The result is typically better performance in those workloads than anything a GeForce or Radeon could achieve. Moreover, the Quadro and FirePro boards are dutifully validated in the software important to professionals, assuring not just compatibility, but also reliability in always-on environments.

With that said, a number of our readers have asked us what happens when you turn things around and use graphics hardware designed for very high-end tasks to play games. So, we set out to evaluate the current state of affairs using a number of synthetic and real-world tests.

Despite DirectX's technical limitations in professional applications, it continues to grow more popular in certain segments. Autodesk’s Inventor is a good example of this. We thought it'd be interesting to compare how nearly-identical GPUs perform, complemented by their respective drivers. The real question is: is the software you download for Nvidia's Quadro cards, along with AMD's Catalyst Pro package for the FirePro boards, only optimized for workstation tasks, or can they handle gaming, too?

Today's experiment involves measuring the performance of workstation-oriented graphics cards in applications you wouldn't normally associate with them. Not only is it interesting to see where these cards fall in relation to each other, but also in comparison to their corresponding desktop-class products.

Personally, I was surprised by the results from one particular product...

Our Graphics Card Test Bed

Once again, we're using the game titles from last year's test bed for the charts section (2012 Graphics Card Charts). You won't find either Nvidia's Quadro 600 or 400 here because they're even slower than the old GeForce GT 440. Even if they served up similar performance as that mainstream card, they'd be unusable for gaming.

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Benchmark System: Hardware and Software
CPUIntel Core i7-2600K (Sandy Bridge), Overclocked to 4.5 GHz, Shared 6 MB L3 Cache, Hyper-Threading Enabled
CPU CoolerProlimatech SuperMega + Noiseblocker Multiframe
MotherboardGigabyte Z68X-UD7-B3, Intel Z68 Express
RAM2 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600
System DriveKingston V100+ 256 GB SSD
Power SupplyCorsair AX1200i, 1,200 W, 80 PLUS Platinum
Operating SystemWindows 7 x64 SP1
DriverCatalyst Pro 9.003.3 (FirePro)Catalyst 12.11 Beta (Radeon)GeForce 307.45 WHQL (Quadro)GeForce 310.70 WHQL (GeForce)
  • MyUsername2
    Are these cards so expensive because fewer people need to buy them, or do they really have that much more tech in them?
  • ipwn3r456
    Umm, why not the newest Quadro K5000 is being benchmarked, but the newest FirePro W9000 is being tested here?
  • velocityg4
    MyUsername2Are these cards so expensive because fewer people need to buy them, or do they really have that much more tech in them?Probably the former plus they can get away with charging more as business customers need them.

    Same with Enterprise hard drives. They are pretty much the same as regular hard drives. The only real difference is how they deal with data errors. The consumer drive will try to correct the error and recover the data causing the drive to not respond for a while and the RAID controller to thing it went bad potentially taking down the array when trying to rebuild. An Enterprise drive just notes the error and keeps chugging along asking the array for the corrupted data.

    Now while the Enterprise hard drive is little more than a firmware change, making their price appalling. At least these workstation cards actually have some different chips and design requiring their own manufacturing equipment. So their higher price is more justified as they have to make changes to their line for a relatively small number of cards.

    If they had a demand as high as the gaming cards their prices would probably be pretty close to their gaming counterpart. I'm sort of surprised one of them hasn't just unified their gaming and workstation line and dominate the workstation market.
  • k1114
    Best article topic I've seen all year.
  • FormatC
    Umm, why not the newest Quadro K5000 is being benchmarked, but the newest FirePro W9000 is being tested here?
    Ask Nvidia and take a look in the NDA- Try to buy one ;)

  • anxiousinfusion
    So its Toms suggesting that enthusiasts who want bleeding edge performance start building gaming machines with the W9000 cards?
  • moneymoneymoney
    @anxiousinfusion I would say that they're saying if you want professional performance in CAD & 3D Rendering software but also game on the same machine then these cards can do just that. Instead of buying two machines (one for work and one for gaming).
  • e56imfg
    Now do workstation CPUs :)
  • guvnaguy
    Do companies use these cards for any sort of video game design? If so I could see why they need optimized for both applications.

    Just goes to show how under-utilized the high-end gaming hardware is. If that kind of driver tweaking went into gaming cards, you could probably max out Metro 2033 on a 8800GTX, eh?
  • rmpumper
    I had a laptop with quadro fx3600m 3 years ago and from personal experience know that it was identical as the 8800GTm at gaming.