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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.

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)