AMD is now introducing its second round of FirePro Eyefinity graphics cards, based on its 3rd generation 40nm GPU (formerly codenamed “Cayman”). The initial focus is at the mid-range and high-range of the market with the FirePro V5900 ($599) and FirePro V7900 ($999), but we expect others to follow shortly. Both cards are already available as options in Dell’s Precision workstation range and, come July 1st 2011, HP’s Z Series.
FirePro V5900 (2GB GDDR5)
The FirePro V5900 is AMD’s performance CAD card. It supports up to three monitors through two DisplayPort 1.2 and one dual link DVI outputs, features 512 stream processors and 2GB GDDR5 memory. In relation to current software this is an incredible amount of memory for CAD with most users not needing more than 1GB. Even those with complex datasets in applications such as SolidWorks, Catia and Alias that use Vertex Buffer Objects (VBOs) (an OpenGL extension where geometry is loaded up and resides on the graphics card) are unlikely to get anywhere near the 2GB limit.
Where this additional memory will offer benefits is for users of design visualisation applications such as 3ds Max where heavy use of textures is common. Looking to the future it could also help those looking to take advantage of GPU compute in OpenCL-based rendering or simulation applications which will be coming on stream later this year.
FirePro V7900 (2GB GDDR5)
The FirePro V7900 is AMD’s high-end card for users of design visualization software or CAD applications such as NX and Catia that are able to make use of the additional GPU processing power as they are not so limited by the speed of the CPU.
The AMD FirePro V7900 features a daughter card for stereo 3D
The card features a whopping 1,280 stream processors and, like the V5900, 2GB GDDR5 memory. It features four DisplayPort 1.2 outputs, which means it can also be used to drive a 2 x 2 powerwall. Other high-end features include support for stereo 3D for use with 3D monitors, projectors or glasses, plus an optional add-on for Genlock / Framelock, where the display output from graphics cards in individual machines can be synchronised for high-performance powerwalls. This is a very high-end feature to have on a $999 card.
Naturally, 3D performance is high on the list of priorities with the new cards and here AMD has concentrated heavily both on hardware and software (drivers). The new generation cards feature a tech called GeometryBoost that processes two primitives per clock cycle.
Of course for professional 3D it’s all about making the most out of the available hardware and AMD has also been working extensively with the CAD/CAM/CAE software developers to help boost performance. The FirePro driver team is particularly pleased with its performance increases under SolidWorks, Catia, NX, Maya and Autodesk Inventor, an application whose 3D performance is typically governed by the speed of the CPU. Expect AMD to announce improved performance in other 3D applications soon.
N.B. It should be noted that these driver optimizations should also benefit existing FirePro customers, so it’s worth checking out the latest 126.96.36.199 driver, though this is not yet certified for use with most 3D applications.
Electricity usage is big news in workstations at the moment and graphics cards can draw as much power as CPUs, if not more. To put this in perspective the FirePro V7800 draws a maximum of 150W, the V5800 a maximum of 75W, and the Core i7 2600K, Intel’s top-end standard desktop CPU, a maximum of 95W.
Compared to other graphics cards in their class AMD’s figures are not big, but to save energy it has developed a new power management technology called Powertune. According to AMD, it can save as much as 50% when the stream processors are not being put to work on complex 3D datasets.
For those not content with support for three and four monitors respectively in the V5900 and V7900, the fact that both cards feature DisplayPort 1.2 is to open things up even further in the future. Due to the increased bandwidth that the 1.2 standard offers, plus some clever clock synching tech, two of the DisplayPorts on the V5900 and V7900 will be able to drive three monitors, meaning a total of six.
In the past we have heard reports of “good 3D performance” from Dassault Systèmes
when running six monitors off a single high-end FirePro V9800. Comparing specs like for like we can guess that the V7900 would be able to do a pretty good job here but the V5900 would probably be a little underpowered to deliver the required frame rates. Still, this feature on the V5900 could still be of interest to those wanting to create low-cost video walls rather than a 3D powerwall.
To take advantage of MST you either need DisplayPort 1.2 compatible monitors, which can be daisy chained using two ports, or an MST Hub, which can also support older video standards such as DVI and VGA. Compatible monitors are only out next month and hubs (for those that don’t want to invest in new screens) later this year, so it’s definitely one for the future.