Introducing the FirePro W Series

Altogether AMD will be launching four cards for the FirePro W series. All of these cards are based on AMD’s Southern Islands GPUs, specifically their Tahiti and Pitcairn GPUs. For the purposes of this article we’ll be reviewing two of these cards, the FirePro W9000 and its younger sibling the W8000, the two Tahiti cards of the family.

Meanwhile, in keeping with past FirePro cards AMD is holding steady on their sales & support methods. AMD will be the sole manufacturer for the FirePro W series, and alongside OEM deals will be selling the cards through the usual 3rd party distributors. All of the FirePro cards come with a 3 year warranty, 24/7 support, and a 3 year production lifecycle.

FirePro W9000

AMD FirePro W9000 Specs
Single Precision Double Precision Pixel Fillrate Texture Fillrate Memory Band.
4TFLOPs 1TFLOPs 31.2 GPixels/sec 124 GTexels/sec 264GB/sec

AMD’s first FirePro W series card and the flagship of the family is the W9000. Based on AMD’s Tahiti GPU, this is a fully enabled part with all 32 CUs (2048 SPs in total), all 32 ROPs, and all 6 memory controllers enabled. With absolutely no restrictions on performance this is unquestionably the ultimate Southern Islands card. For that reason, within AMD’s product lineup it replaces the previous flagship FirePro card, the Cypress-based V9800.

The W9000 is clocked at 975MHz for the core clock and 5.5GHz for the memory clock. Compared to its consumer counterpart, the Radeon HD 7970, this is actually 50MHz higher on the core clock, owing to general process improvements and a less conservative stance on clockspeeds from AMD. Meanwhile this is paired with 6GB of GDDR5 RAM – typical for a professional card – in the form of 24 2Gb chips. AMD’s TDP rating for the entire card is 274W, a consequence of having to power a full 6GB of relatively power-hungry GDDR5.

As far as the card’s construction goes, this is a fairly standard AMD workstation card. In AMD’s parlance this is a full length, full height, double slot card, with a total length of 11”, meaning it shouldn’t have any trouble fitting into most mid-tower and larger workstations. Meanwhile cooling for the W9000 is provided by the same type of blower we saw on the 7970, a rather typical and effective blower design and in the process further highlighting the similarities between the two cards. On that note, owing to the fact that it has 6GB of RAM and is not geared towards the consumer market, AMD has outfit a backplate to the card to provide protection for the hardware and to serve as a basic heatsink for the RAM mounted on that side.

Moving on to connectivity, AMD is not taking any chances here, outfitting the card 6 mini-DisplayPort connectors. The significance of this arrangement is that it ensures the card can drive absolutely any kind of 6 monitor configuration with the right adapters, and it means AMD isn’t reliant on still-absent MST hubs to actually provide connectivity for 6 monitors. Unique to the FirePro lineup is the inclusion of a 3pin mini-DIN connector, which allows for the card to be rigged up for 3D display functionality. CrossFire connectors are also present to provide CrossFire Pro support. A synchro header is also available to allow the card to be hooked up to AMD’s FirePro S400 synchronization module.

Taken altogether, as AMD’s flagship FirePro card the W9000 will serve as AMD’s ultra high end FirePro product. Because it’s based on an unrestricted Tahiti GPU AMD is targeting both professional graphics and compute with this card, both of which are tasks it should do well at thanks to the massive collection of functional units the 28nm process affords. Comparatively speaking, because AMD hasn’t greatly increased their ROP count compared to the last generation of FirePro cards the raw pixel throughput has not grown a great deal – on paper the 31.2 GPixels/sec rate is only 15% better than the FirePro V9800 – so the W9000’s biggest performance gains relative to its predecessor are going to be in shading and compute. Performance there is a whopping 4 TFLOPs for single precision (FP32), and 1TFLOP for double precision (FP64). This implies a ¼ double precision execution rate for W9000, which is the same rate we saw for the Tahiti-based 7970. There had been some initial speculation that AMD had artificially capped their double precision rate on their consumer cards (ala NVIDIA), so this confirms that was not the case.

On that note, with a 2 month lead on NVIDIA’s Quadro K5000 and a full 4 month lead on the Tesla K20, AMD is looking to capitalize on their performance lead for the time being. For compute in particular, on paper AMD is well ahead of NVIDIA and as we’ve already seen in consumer reviews of the GCN architecture, they have the means to back up those numbers. Even when the K5000 launches, the W9000 will still be far more powerful in most compute tasks, an interesting turn of events given that the 40nm generation of professional cards had AMD and NVIDIA in the reverse roles.

Finally, for those of you looking to pick up AMD’s latest and greatest in professional graphics, AMD’s street estimated pricing for the W9000 is $3999. Real prices will almost certainly be lower, but there’s no way to tell by how much at this point, making it hard to draw price comparisons with the outgoing Quadro 6000. Meanwhile buyers will want to be aware that because of its high power consumption and high price AMD is expecting this to be a low-volume product, so as currently planned it will not be shipping in any workstations as the default configuration. Buyers will either need to acquire it as a build-to-order upgrade, or purchase one directly to be installed as a self-upgrade.

FirePro W8000

AMD FirePro W8000 Specs
Single Precision Double Precision Pixel Fillrate Texture Fillrate Memory Band.
3.2TFLOPs 0.8TFLOPs 28.8 GPixels/sec 100 GTexels/sec 176GB/sec

Below the FirePro W9000 in the FirePro W series is the FirePro W8000. While very similar, unlike the W9000 the W8000 is a lower clocked, lower performing part intended to come in at a lower price. Specifically, it’s based on a partially disabled Tahiti GPU with 1 CU array (4 CUs) disabled, leaving it with 28 CUs that make up 1792 SPs. The memory bus has also been partially disabled, reducing the GPU down to a 256-bit memory bus that’s paired with 4GB of RAM. Notably however, because AMD has decoupled their ROPs from their memory controller, the W8000 still has all 32 ROPs enabled.

Along with the decrease in functional units also comes a slight decrease in clockspeeds. The W8000 ships at a core clock of 900MHz, while the memory clock is maintained at 1375MHz. Taken altogether this gives the W8000 80% of the W9000’s compute, shading, and texturing performance, 92% of its ROP performance, and only 66% of its memory bandwidth. As a result its performance relative to the W9000 is going to depend heavily on whatever is bottlenecking its performance. As a tradeoff for this reduced performance however, power consumption is also greatly reduced, from 274W to 189W, making the W8000 suitable for use in systems which can only provide 150W of external power for a GPU.

Moving on to the build of the card itself, the W8000 is virtually identical to the W9000. It’s based on the same cooler and PCB as the W9000, and except for the model number stamped on the card the two are seemingly identical at first glance. In fact the only meaningful difference between the two cards when it comes to their construction is their connectivity. In a bit of a schizophrenic move by AMD, the W8000 forgoes the 6 miniDP ports for 4 full size DisplayPorts. The reduction in ports makes sense to keep the W9000 more valuable – though the W8000 can still drive 6 displays with a MST hub – but the move to full size DisplayPorts is odd at best, and this kind of inconsistency continues to be a problem throughout the entire graphics industry. In any case, other than the changes to the DisplayPorts the W8000 is otherwise identical, featuring the same 3pin mini-DIN for 3D display functionality, and a pair of CrossFIre connectors for CrossFire Pro.

Ultimately the W8000 fills the expected role as AMD’s lower-priced but still high performance video card. It will be launching at $1599, $2400 less than the W9000, reflecting the significant markup that GPU makers charge for their very best cards. Unlike the W9000 though, the W8000 is a higher volume part and does have some design wins from Dell, who will be shipping it in some of their high-end workstations.

FirePro W7000

AMD FirePro W7000 Specs
Single Precision Double Precision Pixel Fillrate Texture Fillrate Memory Band.
2.4TFLOPs 0.15TFLOPs 30.4 GPixels/sec 76 GTexels/sec 153GB/sec

The other set of products launching in the FirePro W series are the W7000 and W5000. Both of these cards are based on AMD’s Pitcairn GPU, which means that unlike the W9000 and W8000 they’re far more focused on graphics performance than compute performance, specifically double precision. Relative to AMD’s outgoing product stack these cards will be replacing the Cayman based FirePro V cards, the V7900 and V5900.

Starting with the larger of the cards, the W7000 is a fully enabled Pitcairn part featuring all 20 CUs enabled, sitting alongside 32 ROPs. This is paired with a 256bit memory bus connected to 4GB of RAM, similar to the higher-end W8000. Consequently the real difference between the W7000 and W8000 comes down to the basic architectural differences between Tahiti and Pitcairn when it comes to compute, along with the generally lower compute and texture performance that having fewer CUs results in.

AMD will be clocking the W7000 at 950MHz for the core and 4.8GHz for the memory. On the GPU performance side of things this gives the W7000 2.4TFLOPs of single precision performance, and a much more meager 0.15TFLOPs of double precision. Meanwhile raw pixel pushing power comes in at a rather high 30.4 GPixels/sec, though compared to the higher-end FirePro W series cards the W7000 won’t have nearly as easy a time reaching that. Finally, with the 4.8GHz memory clock this gives the W7000 a full 153GB/sec of memory bandwidth.

Moving on, the W7000 has an official TDP of <150W, which means it requires only a single 6pin PCIe external power connector. This relatively low TDP means that AMD is also able to get away with it being a single slot card.

Display connectivity is the same as the W8000, with 4 full-size DisplayPorts and the ability to drive a 5th and 6th monitor through the use of a MST hub. 3D display connectivity is also available, but only through the use of an external bracket since there’s not enough room for the 3pin mini-DIN on the single slot card.

Finally, AMD has put the SRP on the W7000 at $899. The W7000 has design wins from both Dell and HP, and as a cheaper part should be much more common than the W8000.

FirePro W5000

AMD FirePro W5000 Specs
Single Precision Double Precision Pixel Fillrate Texture Fillrate Memory Band.
1.28TFLOPs 0.08TFLOPs 26.4 GPixels/sec 39.6 GTexels/sec 102GB/sec

The final FirePro W series card is the W5000, AMD’s value part and the smaller sibling of the W7000. This is a notably pared-down part, with only 12 active CUs, giving the card 768SPs. However all 32 ROPs are available, along with 2GB of RAM that is attached to the full 256bit memory bus. With a core clock of 825MHz and a memory clock of 3.2GHz, on paper it should offer around 52% of the shading, compute, and texturing performance of the W7000, along with 66% of the memory bandwidth. This puts theoretical performance at around 1.3TFLOPs for single precision, 0.08TFLOPs for double precision, and 102GB/sec of memory bandwidth.

Along with being AMD’s value part this is also AMD’s only W series card that doesn’t require external power, thanks to its sub-75W TDP. Though this is also why it has so many disabled CUs and a much lower memory clock relative to the W7000.

Meanwhile display connectivity deviates from all of the other W series cards, with AMD dropping to two full size DisplayPorts in order to fit a single DL-DVI port.  The inclusion of a DVI port is not wholly unexpected, as cards in this price range are more likely to be sold to users who don’t have a DisplayPort capable monitor, and in the meantime the $80 price of a DisplayPort to DL-DVI adapter starts to become a significant fraction of the card’s overall price. Moving on, like the W7000, 3D display connectivity is once again available via an external bracket, while in an interesting move the W5000 has become the only W series card not capable of being paired with an S400 synchronization module, with the card instead supporting an internal “IntraSystem Framelock” method.

Finally, AMD has priced the W5000 at $599. Like the W7000 this has design wins from both HP and Dell, and thanks to its low power consumption is capable of fitting into virtually any system that can support a full-profile PCIe card.

AMD's FirePro W Series Setting the Scene: The Professional Graphics Market
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  • cjb110 - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    No interest in the product unfortunatly, but the article was a well written and interesting read. Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    I certainly miss the days of softmodding consumer cards to pro cards. I think the last card I did it on was either the 8800GT or the 4850. Some of the improvements in rendering quality and drawing speed were astounding - but it certainly nerfed gaming capability. It's a shame (from a consumer perspective) to no longer be able to softmod. Reply
  • augiem - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    I miss those days too, but I have to say I never saw any improvement in Maya sadly over the course of 3 different generations of softmodded cards. And I spent so much time and effort researching the right card models, etc. I think the benefits for Autocad and such must have been more pronounced than Maya. Reply
  • mura - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    I understand, how important it is to validate and bug-fix these cards, it is not the same, if a card malfunctions under Battlefield3 or some kind of an engineering software - but is such a premium price necessary?

    I know, this is the market - everybody tries to acheive maximum profit, but seeing these prices, and comparing the specs with consumer cards, which cost a fraction - I don't see the bleeding-edge, I don't see the added value.
    Reply
  • bhima - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    Who has chatted with some of the guys at Autodesk: They use high-end gaming cards. Not sure if they ALL do, but a good portion of them do simply because of the cost of these "professional" cards. Reply
  • wiyosaya - Thursday, August 16, 2012 - link

    Exactly my point. If the developers at a high-end company like Autodesk use gaming cards, that speaks volumes.

    People expect that they will get better service, too, if a bug crops up. Well, even in the consumer market, I have an LG monitor that was seen by nVidia drivers as an HD TV, and kept me from using the 1980x1200 resolution of the monitor. I reported this to nVidia and within days, there was a beta version of the drivers that had fixed the problem.

    As I see it, the reality is that if you have a problem, there is no guarantee that the vendor will fix it no matter how much you paid for the card. Just look at t heir license agreement. Somewhere in the agreement, it is likely that you will find some clause that says that they do not guarantee a fix to any of the problems that you may report.
    Reply
  • bwoochowski - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    No one seems to be asking the hard questions of AMD:

    1) What happened to the 1/2 rate double precision FP performance that we were supposed to see on professional GCN cards?

    2) Now that we're barely starting to see some support for the cl_khr_fp4 header, when can we expect the compiler to support the full suite of options? When will OpenCL 1.2 be fully supported?

    3) Why mention the FirePro S8000 in press reports and never release it? I have to wonder about how much time and effort was wasted on adding support for the S8000 to the HMPP and other compilers.

    I suppose it's pointless to even ask about any kind of accelerated infiniband features at this point.

    With the impending shift to hybrid clusters in the HPC segment, I find it baffling that AMD would choose to kill off their dedicated compute card now. Since the release of the 4870 they had been attracting developers that were eager to capitalize on the cheap double precision fp performance. Now that these applications are ready to make the jump from a single PC to large clusters, the upgrade path doesn't exist. By this time next year there won't be anyone left developing on AMD APP, they'll all have moved back to CUDA. Brilliant move, AMD.
    Reply
  • N4g4rok - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    Providing they don't develop new hardware to meet that need. Keeping older variations of dedicated compute cards wouldn't make any sense for moving into large cluster computing. They could keep that same line, but it would need an overall anyway. why not end it and start something new? Reply
  • boeush - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    "I find it baffling that AMD would choose to kill off their dedicated compute card now."

    It's not that they won't have a compute card (their graphics card is simply pulling double duty under this new plan.) The real issue is, to quote from the article:

    "they may be underpricing NVIDIA’s best Quadro, but right now they’re going to be charging well more than NVIDIA’s best Tesla card. So there’s a real risk right now that FirePro for compute may be a complete non-starter once Tesla K20 arrives at the end of the year."

    I find this approach by AMD baffling indeed. It's as if they just decided to abdicate whatever share they had of the HPC market. A very odd stance to take, particularly if they are as invested in OpenCL as they would like everyone to believe. The more time passes, and the more established code is created around CUDA, the harder it will become for AMD to push OpenCL in the HPC space.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    LOL - thank you, as the amd epic fail is written all over that.
    Mentally ill self sabotage, what else can it be when you're amd.
    The have their little fanboys yapping opencl now for years on end, and they lack full support for ver 1.2 - LOL
    It's sad - so sad, it's funny.
    Actually that really is sad, I feel sorry for them they are such freaking failures.
    Reply

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