Like many technology markets, the graphics card industry has undergone several significant changes in the last few years. First, pioneer 3DLabs dropped out of the business, leaving only ATI and NVIDIA. And last year, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) acquired ATI. Though indications show that AMD is committed to the continued development of ATI technologies, I admit I find the acquisition somewhat unsettling. Second, due to demand, the lines between consumer and workstation graphics cards have blurred as the development and performance of consumer graphics cards have, in many respects, caught up to or surpassed workstation graphics cards.
We put NVIDIA’s ultra-high-end Quadro FX 4600 graphics card through its paces. For comparison, we ran an ATI FireGL V7300 graphics card through the same tests. Both cards were carefully evaluated for processing performance.
Off and Running
The Quadro FX 4600 is built around the G80GL Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), features 768 MB onboard memory, max 3840 x 2400 dual-link DVI resolution, stereoscopic output and support for GenLock and SDI for broadcast-quality video. The FireGL V7300 runs on the slightly older R520 GPU, features a respectable 512 MB of memory, max 3840 x 2400 dual-link DVI resolution, as well as stereoscopic and GenLock support. We used industry-standard SPECviewperf 9.0.3, running on a Dell 690, Quad-Core Xeon workstation, with 2 GB of RAM for testing. Both graphics cards were evaluated with their latest drivers.
When the results from our benchmark testing were in, the Quadro FX 4600 outperformed the FireGL V7300 across the board, but, in general, the difference in mean scores was typically less than 10 percent. It’s important to keep in mind that benchmark tests are simulations and may not always mirror real-world models. Instead of putting the graphics cards through additional benchmarks, we opted for more practical testing, such as loading very heavy datasets into 3ds Max 9. After working with various OpenGL and Direct3D settings for view port display, hardware lighting, texture display and rendering, there was often little or no difference in performance.
Conceivably, the Quadro FX 4600’s high-end performance kicks in when working with extremely large datasets (tens of millions of polygons and very large textures). This makes the Quadro FX 4600 very application-specific, for instance in CAD and high-resolution animation. Where the two graphics cards differed greatly is in price. The Quadro FX 4600 retails for $2,399, while the FireGL V7300 ships for about $1,795 (pricing for the FireGL V7300 varied).