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Despite the wide range of the GPU coverage we do here at AnandTech, from reading our articles you would be hard pressed to notice that AMD and NVIDIA have product lines beyond their consumer Radeon and GeForce brands. Consumer video cards compose the bulk of all video cards shipped, the bulk of revenue booked, and since they’re targeted at a very wide audience, the bulk of all marketing attention. Consequently consumer cards also take up the bulk of the press’s attention, especially since new GPUs are almost always launched in a consumer video card first.

The truth of course is that there’s a great deal more to the GPU marketplace than consumer video cards; abutting the consumer market is the smaller, specialized, but equally important professional market that makes up the rest of the desktop GPU marketplace. Where consumers need gaming performance and video playback, professionals need compute performance, specialized rendering performance, and above all a level of product reliability and support beyond what consumers need. They need the same basic product as consumers – a high performance, feature-packed GPU – but they need to use it in entirely different ways.

As a result of these different needs the GPU marketplace is traditionally split up into three segments: consumer, professional graphics, and compute. Among these segments consumer products typically launch first, with professional and compute products following 6 to 12 months later based on further driver development and qualification needs. The end result is an interesting product cascade that sees the true, unrestricted performance of a GPU only finally unveiled several months after it launches.

This leads us to today’s product review: AMD’s FirePro W9000 video card. Having launched their Graphics Core Next architecture and the first GPUs based on it at the beginning of the year, AMD has been busy tuning and validating GCN for the professional graphics and compute markets, and that process has finally reached its end. This month AMD is launching a complete family of professional video cards, the FirePro W series, led by the flagship W9000.

AMD FirePro W Series Specification Comparison
  AMD FirePro W9000 AMD FirePro W8000 AMD FirePro W7000 AMD FirePro W5000
Stream Processors 2048 1792 1280 768
Texture Units 128 112 80 48
ROPs 32 32 32 32
Core Clock 975MHz 900MHz 950MHz 825MHz
Memory Clock 5.5GHz GDDR5 5.5GHz GDDR5 4.8GHz GDDR5 3.2GHz GDDR5
Memory Bus Width 384-bit 256-bit 256-bit 256-bit
VRAM 6GB 4GB 4GB 2GB
Double Precision 1/4 1/4 1/16 1/16
Transistor Count 4.31B 4.31B 2.8B 2.8B
TDP 274W 189W <150W <75W
Manufacturing Process TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm TSMC 28nm
Architecture GCN GCN GCN GCN
Warranty 3-Year 3-Year 3-Year 3-Year
Launch Price $3999 $1599 $899 $599

As always, the latest rendition of the FirePro family will be taking their place as AMD’s professional graphics card lineup. Having a dedicated professional graphics card lineup allows AMD to offer features and functionality – primarily rigorous application certification against a driver set tuned for high reliability – that while not necessary for consumer cards are critical for professional users; and of course to charge those users accordingly. FirePro also is distinct for being AMD’s only in-house video card offering, with AMD directly producing, selling, and supporting the products as opposed to farming that work out to third party partner companies (as is the case with Radeon cards).

Taking a quick look at the specifications, if you’re familiar at all with AMD’s Radeon HD 7000 series lineup, then the FirePro W series lineup should look very familiar. As with the FirePro V series and past iterations of the FirePro, the latest rendition of the FirePro family is effectively comprised of professional certified versions of existing Radeon HD 7000 series video cards, which means the hardware is nearly identical to AMD’s consumer products.

The big new with this week’s launch of course isn’t just that AMD will be replacing the 40nm FirePro V series with the 28nm FirePro W series, but that they’re doing so with Graphics Core Next, their modern compute-oriented GPU architecture. With FirePro pulling double-duty as both AMD’s professional graphics card and their compute card, this makes GCN all the more important as it brings with it potentially massive compute performance improvements that significantly shore up the V series’ weakness in compute. We’ve often said that the full power of GCN hasn’t been tapped by the consumer-oriented Radeon series, so now with FirePro we’ll finally get to see everything GCN can do.

We’ll dive into greater detail later about the individual products and their specifications, but for now we’ll offer a quick overview of the FirePro W series. Altogether the W series is to initially be composed of 4 cards, the W9000, W8000, W7000, and W5000. The former two are based around AMD’s high-end Tahiti GPU while the latter two are based around their mid-tier Pitcairn GPU, which creates a clear distinction between the two groups. Whereas Tahiti was built for both strong graphics and strong compute performance, Pitcairn is more tuned for graphics, and as FirePro products that distinction has not changed.

As a result high performance computing – particularly double precision – is going to be the domain of W8000 and W9000, along with AMD’s best graphical performance. W7000 and W5000 on the other hand still offer respectable single precision compute performance but lack the double precision performance of the larger cards, making them better suited for pure graphical workloads than for compute or compute mixed with graphics.

Moving on, much like AMD’s consumer product launch earlier this year they will enjoy a couple month lead over NVIDIA in getting 28nm cards out into the professional market.  So for the time being AMD will have a generational lead over NVIDIA’s competing products, the Fermi based Quadro series. Unlike the consumer space though the hardware upgrade pace in the professional market is much slower, so while this still gives AMD an advantage it won’t be as significant as their launch advantage in the consumer space.

On that note, when it comes to competition, pricing has been a big part of AMD’s strategy. Typically, AMD has undercut NVIDIA on pricing for equivalent professional products in order to cut into NVIDIA’s very large share of the market. Professional graphics margins are high enough that AMD can afford to sacrifice some of their margin for market share.

For the initial launch however this won’t strictly be the case, due to the fact that the Fermi Quadro series is slowly on its way out – to be replaced by the K5000 and future cards. With a SRP of $3999 for the W9000 it’s roughly as expensive as the Quadro 6000 at current prices, and the situation is similar for the $1599 W8000 compared to the Quadro 5000. Eventually NVIDIA will finish refreshing the Quadro series for Kepler, and when they do it would be reasonable to expect that AMD’s pricing will undercut NVIDIA’s new prices; the Quardo 6000 did have a launch MSRP of $4999, after all.

Summer 2012 Workstation Video Card Price Comparison
AMD Price NVIDIA
FirePro W9000 $3999 Quadro 6000
FirePro W8000 $1599-$1799 Quadro 5000
FirePro W7000 $749-$899 Quadro 4000
FirePro W5000 $599  
  $399 Quadro 2000

Finally, on a quick housekeeping note, as you may have noticed in the title we are splitting up this article into two parts. Part 1 will be focusing on the tech, the specs, and the market, while part 2 will focus on benchmarking and our performance analysis. This is so we can get the first part out at the start of this week, as opposed to holding it our extended benchmarking is complete. So if you’re looking for specific figures and performance numbers, please be sure to check back later this week for the full performance rundown.

Introducing the FirePro W Series
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  • johnthacker - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    The W7000 has some uses in specific situations, but that's because it's a single slot card. Single slot Radeon HD 7850s (much less 7870s), which also use Pitcairn, are difficult to find; there was one OEM that showed off a design IIRC. Other than that it's hard to see exactly when someone would want these cards.

    The same generally holds for NVIDIA (the Fermi Quadro cards are cut down GF100 based, so they can be better at compute than their gaming numbers suggest, and the old Quadro 4000 is a single slot card.) Interesting that NVIDIA so far is trying to reserve GK110 for Quadro and Kepler only. We'll see if that works.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - link

    AMD doesn't need to provide compatible, they need to provide better.

    Bottom line is companies won't change gpu manufacturer. Nvidia works well, has traditionally worked better then AMD and they still have much better driver support (team is much bigger).

    There are no AMD fanboys routing for the underdog, you have to provide a clear business reason to change, and "we're almost as good as nvidia in sometimes" isn't it.
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    Compute baby ! amd compute ! compute ! GPGPU ! amd wins! amd wins!
    (that's all I've heard since 7000 series)
    Hey, winzip man.
    Reply
  • Pixelpusher6 - Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - link

    I really have to question AMD's move here to kill off Firestream and have the FirePro line serve both markets. At the present time this is where they have an advantage on Nvidia. 1TB double precision performance is pretty good even though its only 1/4 of single precision, even clocked low enough to be passively cooled it should still beat Nvidia's best compute card. K10 is not really a compute card at all and to me it seems like they just wanted to get something, anything out until K20. And K20 is by no means a certainty for Q4 2012, my guess is it will be delayed. I just don't have confidence in Nvidia's mastering of the 28nm process yet, especially given the enormous die size of this chip which I've heard presents some unique challenges. And when K20 does come out it will probably be more expensive than their current compute cards.

    If I were AMD I would re-brand the compute card, drop the Firestream name because of it's association with VLIW, and come out with a new brand to highlight what really makes up GCN...Compute. Does anyone know if HPC clusters use actively cooled cards or only passively cooled? I was under the impression that compute cards generally were clocked a little lower but passively cooled. If that is the case then that rules out using the FirePro W9000 and W8000 in these server clusters. It seems like AMD just conceded this market completely when they finally have a competitive compute GPU to gain a foothold. As someone else noted this market will only be expanding. If AMD wants to only focus on professional graphics I sure hope their drivers will be better than the consumer counterparts.
    Reply
  • dtolios - Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - link

    When will AMD start improving compatibility with VRay RT and other similar OpenCL apps? All this computational potential remains unused outside benchmarks - at least for the CG world.

    Radeons are vastly better in OpenGL than GeForce cards, so the switch to FirePro's is way less "mandatory" for such apps. But even if those driver issues were solved, AMD would secure a huge increase of share in the professional CG market which now uses nVidia (yes, mostly gaming cards) almost exclusively.
    Reply
  • AG@FirePro - Monday, August 27, 2012 - link

    You might imagine that it's in AMD's best interest to work very closely with all the important ISVs in this space - and you would be right! :) Helping our technology partners and the broader software development community implement open-standards-based GPU acceleration in their applications is an area of heavy onging investment for us.

    Of course, not all apps are written the same. Some applications -especially those written in years past- are architected in a way that makes it challenging to enable the best performance across all the modern GPU options on the market. Proprietary or "hybrid" codebases often make full cross-compatibility quite difficult. can assure you that neither ISVs nor end-users want their toolsets be tied to a particular hardware vendor or proprietary technology base. Unfortunately, it's not always as easy as flipping a switch and sometimes this takes a while. This said, I think it's fair to say that our aim is that very soon, everybody will have the option to run the hardware of their choice in conjunction with their favorite realtime raytracer, physics solver or any other hardware-accelerated toolset.

    AMD FirePro cards fully support OpenCL in both hardware and software. Our devices offer certified and acknowledged compatibility and killer performance for a broad range of OpenCL-based applications. The same is true for tons of applications accelerated under OpenGL, DirectX and DirectCompute APIs. Compatibility and reliability are crucial. Nobody understands this more than us.

    To this end, we continue to be closely aligned with all the key ISVs in the M&E, DCC and CAD space to help them provide maximum flexibility, choice and value for their end-users.We also continue to refine and expand our range of developer tools (profilers, compliers, debuggers, etc) while at the same time contributing heavily to the open-source community in the form of optimized libraries and other free developer resources.

    The OpenCL story gets better every day. Every day, there are new and better OpenCL libraries being written and shared. There are new compiler optimizations being made all the time which allow for faster andmore flexible implementations. More and more software devs are liberating their code and their customers from proprietary APIs. While CUDA-bound apps still provide lots of value for many end-users, the writing is clearly on the wall. The age of proprietary GPU acceleration has begun to yield to a new reality of flexibility and choice for consumers.

    This is a good thing, no?

    *PS* You may have noticed an announcement about certain new server-side GCN-based FirePro GPU offerings today. Stay tuned. Things are about to get seriously fun up in here.

    Adam G.
    AMD FirePro Team
    Reply
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - link

    It's not a good thing because it has not happened, and it doesn't appear it will even in the next decade.
    It's still proprietary, and is not cross card company compatible, so it's all crap talk.
    As we saw amd do after their years of PR bashing, WinZip PROPRIETARY.

    It's gonna be all seriously vendor specific up in there for a long, long time.
    Reply
  • warpuck - Sunday, August 19, 2012 - link

    Does this mean I wont need 2 PCs? one for games and another for graphics. I did notice what appears to be a crossfire connector. I know most companies would not go for PC configuration like that, unless it was in the boss's office. I am one of those independants. I like taking a break when I feel like it. Not having 2 PCs would simplify things for me. Reply
  • peevee - Friday, August 24, 2012 - link

    OK, "later this week"? In the review written 8/14. "This" week ended, then "next" week ends today... Reply
  • Death666Angel - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 - link

    Hey!
    No problem about the inconsistent data, but maybe you can present it in a more accurate way? Currently the interval of the X axis is not to scale and the line through the data points makes it seem as though you know the way it progressed in between the data points. I'd rather make a simple bar chart with the intervals showing correctly. It would be a more honest and easy to read diagram. :)
    Great article though! :D
    Reply

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