ATI has come on very strong in the consumer graphics space over the last few months. Besides being first to market with DirectX 11 compatible video cards, unleashing Eyefinity technology on to the masses, and expanding their product line up at every meaningful price point, the Red Team also lays claim to the fastest desktop graphics cards in the world, the Radeon HD 5970. With all of the excitement surrounding these new cards for the consumer market, we wondered when professional graphics models would arrive.
For the uninitiated, here's a quick summary. Workstation graphics cards are used by a wide assortment of professionals, such as 3D professionals working in CAD, DCC, broadcast, medical imaging, and financial services. They tend to focus on OpenGL as the API of choice, as the vast majority of applications opt for it rather than Direct3D, the common API for gaming-level graphics on the desktop. Typically, GPU makers perform very little modification to their base GPU for workstation class products. Rather, they unlock improved performance with driver enhancements and workstation application optimization and validation alone. Professional graphics drivers really enable increased performance though highly focused tuning in specific workload and software environments. Also note that workstation cards go through many stages of certifications from application providers to ensure compatibility as well. Mainstream gaming cards simply don’t have to be tested as strenuously, hence the considerable price discrepancy between the two types of cards.
During the summer of 2009, we reviewed ATI's flagship workstation graphics card, the FirePro V8750. At the time, we revealed that it was basically a V8700 with improved memory capabilities. With the launch of the new FirePro V8800 and its new GPU architecture, we expect to see a lot more improvement than just a memory upgrade. As you may have guessed, the V8800 is the workstation equivalent to the Radeon HD 5870. It sports the RV870 GPU with 1600 shader processors, but also offers 2GB GDDR5 memory checking in at 1150MHz. This is the card 3D pros have been anxiously waiting for and its finally ready for prime time. Read on as we take the brand new FirePro V8800 for a spin to see just how fast it really is.
While the majority of the specs speak for themselves, there are a few features we'd like to point out. The FirePro V8800 includes four native DisplayPort outputs, a stereo output, and comes with two DP to DVI adapters. These will come in handy for those lacking DisplayPort monitors. Furthermore, ATI brings Eyefinity technology to the workplace as users will be able to stretch applications across four screens. And we should note that the card requires two 6-pin PCIe power connections from the PSU and consumes about 208W.
As far as pricing goes, $1499 may seem like a lot to average consumers, but is actually in line with current offerings in the high end workstation videocard space. Last year, the V8750 launched at $1799 and prices for top end professional graphics cards have been trending downward for the past couple of years. Better performance at a lower cost? Yes, please.