While high-end workstation graphics cards may be based on roughly the same core architectures as gaming-targeted graphics cards, their purposes in life are very different. While they both accomplish the same task, processing commands and rendering images on-screen, workstation cards endure a more strenuous existence than their gaming brethren. Workstation cards are used to solve huge, mission-critical problems, like helping engineers design and build cars; helping architects to planning and construct buildings, and even help to our friendly oil and gas companies to provide more effective oil and gas production and transportation methods.
For many HotHardware readers, the closest link most of you would share to the workstation graphics world, is that these high-end graphics cards are used by 3D artists, in both the game design and digital art industry. Workstation cards tend to focus on OpenGL as the API of choice, as the vast majority of modeling, CAD, and other various high-end workstation applications opt for it rather than Direct3D, the common API for gaming-level graphics on the desktop. Typically, the manufacturer performs very little modification to their base GPU (which typically sells for much less in a gaming-based card), but unlocks better performance with driver enhancements and workstation application validation alone. Professional graphics drivers really unleash what the GPUs can do with highly focused tuning in specific workload and software environments. Workstation cards also go through many stages of certifications from software tools providers to ensure compatibility, that gaming cards simply don’t have to.
The workstation graphics card market is booming. As developing nations rely more and more on computing power to solve certain engineering problems, all of these folks are going to be using applications that workstation cards are built for. While the gaming market does get the vast majority of the press and discussion online, the workstation market is equally as important to engineering and design companies in these countries abroad and state side. Workstation graphics products are highly valued in the market, as is evident with the two cards we’ll be looking at today, both with price tags in the four digit range.
Today we'll be orchestrating a direct comparison of two of the most exciting graphics cards shipping in the market currently, AMD's ATI FireGL V8650 and NVIDIA’s QuadroFX 5600. The V8650 is a monster version of ATI’s R600 graphics processor with 2GB of frame buffer memory attached. The Quadro FX 5600 is the 1.5GB heavyweight workstation cousin of the GeForce 8800 Ultra, both of which use NVIDIA’s powerful G80 processor. Both cards are phenomenally large, as well. As you can see above, this is going to be interesting.